It’s often assumed that breast cancer only affects women, but men can get it too. It’s rare, but around 1% of cases of breast cancer in the UK are in men, which adds up to about 370 men a year.
It’s well known that the pressure society puts on men to be strong often leads to them avoiding seeking medical help, whether this is for physical or mental illnesses. Combined with the feminine associations with breasts and the pink branding of breast cancer awareness, it is very common for men to feel uncomfortable with the idea of visiting their GP about breast cancer. Worries about being perceived as weak, or having a form of cancer that is considered ‘unmanly’ can mean that although the disease is much more common in women, men are more likely to leave it later to get checked.
Age: as with breast cancer in women, being older puts you at more risk. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60, although it can affect younger men too.
High oestrogen levels: all men have a small amount of oestrogen, but levels can be increased by factors such as obesity, long term liver damage and certain genetic conditions (for example Klinefelter syndrome).
Radiation exposure: having had radiotherapy to the chest previously for other conditions can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
Family history: certain inherited genes can increase the risk of breast cancer in men – although the risk from this will still be less than the average woman.
It’s important to check yourself regularly and keep an eye out for any of these symptoms, especially if you are in an at-risk category.
If you notice anything that seems different, new or worrying, make an appointment with your GP.
If it turns out you do have breast cancer, it’s important to make sure you have access to support.
Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, provides specific help and advice for men diagnosed with breast cancer.
‘As breast cancer is usually associated with women you may feel embarrassed about discussing your diagnosis. Talking openly about your cancer may be difficult, especially at first, but it may make it easier for people to support you. Talking is also part of the process of adjusting to what has happened. Telling people the basic facts about your diagnosis and options for treatment can be a good way to begin and may lead naturally to talking about how you are feeling.’
You can also access support through Breast Cancer Now’s Someone Like Me service. This puts you in touch with a volunteer with experience of cancer who has been trained to help, whether this is by empathising with your struggles and sharing their own story, or just listening to your worries and concerns.
‘Whatever you are concerned about, whether it’s the shock of a diagnosis, making decisions about treatment or how to adjust to life afterwards, or that you are feeling isolated, support is just a phone call or email away.’