Rick Dandes, The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


Oct. 24--DANVILLE -- Most people think of breast cancer as a disease affecting only women. But breast cancer can attack men as well.

"Every year, nearly 3,000 men are diagnosed with the disease,"said Dr. Victor G. Vogel, an oncologist, and director of the Geisinger Cancer Institute, in Danville. "Compare that with 220,000 women who are diagnosed every year with the disease and you can see that it is relatively rare with men. In more than 25 years as an oncologist, I don't think I've seen more than half a dozen men with breast cancer."

Although the causes of the disease are yet unknown, Vogel said, it's important to know some of the risk factors. "Sometimes," he said, "heavy drinkers are more susceptible to breast cancer. And certain gene mutations, called BRCA1 or BRCA2, can make you more likely to develop breast cancer." "Men with BRCA1 or 2 have a 6 percent chance of getting breast cancer,"Vogel said. "That's about 1 in 16.' Vogel stressed, however, that the gene is "fairly uncommon." Your doctor can check for this.

Some of the breast cancer risk factors can be modified (such as alcohol use) while others cannot be influenced (such as age). It is important to discuss these risks with your health-care provider anytime new therapies are started. The most common sign of breast cancer in men is a firm, nonpainful mass located just below the nipple. There may not be other associated symptoms.

"But every male breast cancer patient I've ever seen," Vogel explained, "has always said, 'Doc, I have a lump in my breast.'" So men shouldn't be shy about checking for the disease if they have an unexplained lump in their breast. The average size of breast cancer in men when first discovered is about 2.5 cm in diameter. The cancer may cause skin changes in the area of the nipple. These changes can include ulceration of the skin, puckering or dimpling, redness or scaling of the nipple, or the turning inward of the nipple. Bloody or opaque discharge from the nipple may also occur.

Less than 1 percent of cases occur on both sides, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the bones may also produce bone pain at the sites of metastases. Advanced breast cancer can also produce symptoms typical of many cancers, including malaise, weakness and weight loss. A healthy lifestyle with vitamins and nutrition may help prevent breast cancer in males. Once diagnosed, Vogel said, "the treatment is virtually indistinguishable from how we treat women with breast cancer. Obviously, the earlier you can detect the disease, the better."

For more information on this, see the American Cancer Society's website at: www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003091-pdf.pdf

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    November 2011