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Males have breasts too

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 By Michelle C Madzudzo

PROSTATE cancer awareness month has come to an end, but that does not mean we halt the conversation on men’s health.

As breast cancer awareness month kicks off this October, Talk Cancer Zim founder is reminding people that men are also at risk. Statistics show that about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime leading to it being seen as a women’s disease.

But that view unintentionally creates a disparity for men, who have a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer sitting at about one in 883 and often face barriers to diagnosis and treatment due to lack of awareness among the public, policymakers and even health workers.

The outlook is excellent if diagnosis occurs in early stages.

However, it is not always the case since there is usually diagnosis delay due to lack of awareness.

This lack of awareness creates an inability for doctors to diagnose men because when symptoms manifest, they don’t immediately think of breast cancer as being a potential cause.

Because breast cancer is rare in men, a man might ignore symptoms and postpone consulting their general practitioner.

In some cases, this may mean that the cancer will already be at an advanced stage when it’s diagnosed.

The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome may be.

So it’s important to get the following symptoms checked out as quickly as possible:

  •  Painless lump close to the nipple (most common symptom)
  •  Fluid discharge from the nipple
  •  A change in appearance of the nipple
  •  An inverted nipple
  •  A change in the shape or appearance of the breast, such as swelling or skin dimpling
  •  Change in size of the breast
  •  Pain in the breast
  •  Redness or scarring of skin on breast or nipple
  •  Lumps in the armpit (axilla)

The exact causes of breast cancer in men are not fully established, but certain factors may increase the risk.

These are outlined below:

Age

A man’s risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, although men of all ages can be affected.

Genetics

Men who carry an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, or who have a family history of breast cancer are at increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Higher oestrogen levels

All men’s bodies produce a small amount of the female hormone oestrogen, as well as male hormones such as testosterone.

Men who have higher than normal levels of oestrogen may be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Oestrogen levels can be higher in men who:

  • are overweight or obese (because fat cells produce oestrogen)
  • have long-term liver conditions such as cirrhosis
  • have some genetic conditions, such as Klinefelter’s syndrome.

Radiation

People, who have had radiotherapy treatment to the chest, for example to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Hodgkin’s disease), may have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.

This increased risk is related to the long-term effects of radiation on normal healthy tissue, not because anything has gone wrong with the treatment.

Alcohol

Heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of cancer.

Men and women alike should know their risk for getting breast cancer, and if they are at risk, should be proactive and go for screening or genetic testing annually.

It’s about knowing your risk and what you can do to prevent it or get early detection and prompt treatment which saves life .

When men are diagnosed  with breast cancer, in a very odd way their masculinity and sexuality is questioned.

It is, therefore, important for men and women and especially parents to know that breast cancer does not discriminate.

Male breast cancer is usually ignored and the pink theme of breast cancer makes them feel excluded because pink is typically associated with women.

I personally think that  policies around breast cancer need to be without gender bias and I encourage health professionals to change their focus.

Males have breasts too!

  • Michele C Madzudzo is a radiation therapist and Talk Cancer Zim founder and president

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