If your best friend suddenly had an inverted nipple or a lump in the breast, your reaction might be different depending on whether your friend is a man or woman. For a woman, this spells breast cancer. For a man? You might not know what to think.
Not only a "Woman's" disease
Many men think that breast cancer is a disease that can only affect women. However, this is untrue. Many people do not realize that men have breast tissue and that they can develop breast cancer. Until puberty, young boys and girls have a small amount of breast tissue consisting of a few ducts (tubular passages) located under the nipple and areola (area around the nipple).
At puberty, a girl's ovaries produce female hormones, causing breast ducts to grow, lobules (milk glands) to form at the ends of ducts, and the amount of stroma (fatty and connective tissue surrounding ducts and lobules) to increase. On the other hand, male hormones produced by the testicles prevent further growth of breast tissue. Men’s breast tissue contains ducts, but only a few if any lobules. Like all cells of the body, a man's breast duct cells can undergo cancerous changes. Because women have many more breast cells than men do and perhaps because their breast cells are constantly exposed to the growth-promoting effects of female hormones, breast cancer is much more common in women.
Benign breast conditions
Gynecomastia is the most common male breast disorder. It is not a tumor but rather an increase in the amount of a man's breast tissue. Usually, men have too little breast tissue to be felt or noticed. A man with gynecomastia has a button-like or disk-like growth under his nipple and areola, which can be felt and sometimes seen. Gynecomastia, common among teenage boys, is due to changes in hormone balance during adolescence. The same condition is not unusual in older men and is also due to changes in their hormone balance.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2008 some 2,030 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men in the United States. Breast cancer is about 100 times more common among women. Overall, breast cancer in men accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases. Breast cancer is a rare cause of cancer death in men.
In 2008, about 460 men will die from breast cancer in the United States (compared to 40,410 in women). That's because very few people know that men can get breast cancer too!