Breast cancer in men is rare but it does happen. In Australia, male breast cancer accounts for around 0.2 per cent of all cancers, which is fewer than 100 cases a year.
In the United States, where most of the research and support for men with breast cancer has been established, in 2001 there were approximately 1400 diagnosed cases of male breast cancer. Of these, 31 per cent — or 400 men — will die from the disease.
In breast cancer cases among women, the mortality rate is actually lower, at 25 per cent. That a higher percentage of men die from the disease is mainly due to delayed diagnosis.
Professor Bruce Armstrong, director of research at the Cancer Council of NSW, reiterates the situation for men in Australia: “The biggest issue here is that for men it is a largely unexpected disease ... and it’s not something that’s being looked for.”
As men are mainly unaware of breast cancer they do not regularly examine themselves, and doctors may not examine symptoms either. If men are concerned with breast anomalies, they will generally delay seeing a physician.
In a 1988 study of 217 men with breast cancer in the USA, it was found that they waited an average of more than 10 months before calling a doctor regarding their symptoms. As a result, in 41 per cent of cases the cancer had already spread to other parts of their bodies by the time of diagnosis.
Graham, a Sydney man diagnosed with breast cancer five and a half years ago, was aware men could develop breast cancer, so when he discovered a lump in his breast he saw a physician immediately.
“I hadn’t long turned 56 and I had a shower one morning and I felt this hard lump near my nipple. I rang the doctor next day to get it looked at. He examined me and said he wanted me to get a mammogram and X-ray. I saw him on Monday, had tests done on Tuesday and the next morning at 10am the doctor phoned and said, “Can you come up and see me straight away?”
“He got me to see a surgeon on the Friday and two weeks later they operated on me.
Men in Australia have a one chance in 1676 of developing breast cancer. Women have a one in 11 chance. The Australian Cancer Council’s latest statistics are from 1998, when 90 men nationally were diagnosed with breast cancer and 17 died.
The various types of breast cancer found in women are also diagnosed in men. Almost all breast cancers in men are carcinomas, which is the same for women. Researchers claim survival rates are the same for men and women at various stages of the disease but, mainly because male breast cancer is detected at a later date, the risk of fatality for men is higher.
There are three grades of breast cancer and men invariably develop grade three, the most aggressive form. Men are usually older than women at the time of diagnosis. Men are less likely than women to develop subsequent cancer in the second breast, but are generally more likely than women to have had another type of cancer or to develop another type of cancer later.