Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to talk about the importance of breast health. In October, you find women decked out in various shades of pink, walking for the cause, and spreading awareness. However, let’s not forget about the strong men who wear pink with these women as a sign of solidarity. After all, breast cancer affects men too.
Breast Cancer in Women
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in American women, with 1 in 8 women in the United States developing breast cancer in her lifetime. By the end of 2020, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S.
Breast Cancer in Men
When most people think of breast cancer, they don’t usually think about men. Most information and images centralized around breast cancer are often geared toward women. However, we should be reminded that men can get breast cancer too. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation an estimated 2,260 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. in 2020, and approximately 520 will die this year alone.
While the cause of breast cancer in men is still not completely understood, researchers have found several factors that may increase the risk of getting it, including:
- Family history of breast cancer
- Liver disease
- Inherited gene mutations
- Testicular conditions
- Radiation exposure
- Estrogen treatment
- Klinefelter syndrome
Breast cancer can affect males differently as they have a small amount of breast tissue compared to females. This makes it easier for men to detect small lumps, but it also means that the cancer has less room to grow within the breast, resulting in the cancer cells spreading quickly to nearby tissues. Symptoms of male breast cancer to watch for include:
- A lump in the breast, chest, or underarm area
- Dimple or puckered skin
- Red, scaly nipple or skin
- Fluid discharge
Screening for Women
Breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, but it can help find breast cancer early when it is easier to treat.
Some women should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms based on their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other risk factors. According to ACS guidelines, high-risk women include those who:
- Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- Have a first-degree relative, meaning parent, sibling or child, with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation and have not had genetic testing themselves
- Have had radiation therapy to the chest when they were between the ages of 10 and 30 years old
Screening for Men
Breast cancer screening is not recommended for most men. It is only recommended for some men who are at risk of breast cancer due to a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation. Men who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation should consider breast cancer screening to help detect breast cancer early, when the chances of survival are highest. Starting at age 35, these men should have a clinical breast exam every year and learn how to do a breast self-exam.
Can Breast Cancer in Women and Men Be Prevented?
Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits, such as staying active, controlling your weight, and limiting alcohol consumption. While some risk factors, such as family history, can’t be changed, there are lifestyle changes one can make to lower the risk of getting breast cancer.
Control your weight
Compared with people of normal weight, those who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for many diseases, one of which is breast cancer. According to ACS, having more fat tissue can increase one’s chance of getting breast cancer by raising estrogen levels. Women who are overweight also tend to have higher levels of insulin, in which high levels of insulin have been linked to some cancers.
Be physically active
Moderate to vigorous physical activity is linked with lower breast cancer risk, so it’s crucial to get regular physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity.
If you are just starting to become physically active, it is important to start slow. Try creating a weekly schedule that incorporates physical activity 3-5 times a week. This can include brisk walking, bicycling, or gardening.
Limit alcohol consumption
Research shows that drinking alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, and liquor, increases a woman’s risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. While that doesn’t mean you need to steer clear of alcohol completely, it just means that if you choose to drink, try limiting yourself to one alcoholic drink a day.
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