October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While you may be aware that breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women, you may not have known that men can get it too. About 1 in 8 women born in the U.S. today will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. The diagnosis is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
Learn the Risks
We don’t know how to prevent breast cancer, but it is possible to reduce the risk of developing the disease. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as age, race, family history and pregnancy history. However, lifestyle factors such as reducing alcohol use, being physically active, staying at a healthy weight and breastfeeding are all linked to lower risk.
Breast cancer risk is higher among women with a family history of the disease. Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer increases a woman’s risk. However, most women with breast cancer do not have a first-degree relative with the disease. Additionally, the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Half of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women older than 61 years of age. Additional risk factors include:
- Hormone replacement therapy, also known as HRT (especially combined estrogen and progestin therapy).
- Being overweight or obese, especially if weight is gained after menopause.
- Use of alcohol, especially two or more drinks daily.
- Not being physically active.
- Long menstrual history.
- Never having children or having your first child after age 30.
- Having previous chest radiation to treat a different cancer.
Take Charge of Your Breast Health!
Many women survive breast cancer when it’s found and treated early.
- Women age 40 to 49: Talk with your doctor to find out when you should start getting mammograms and how often you should get them.
- Women age 50 to 74: Be sure to get a mammogram every two years. You may also choose to get them more often.
Men have a small amount of breast tissue, so they can develop breast cancer too. Male breast cancer is most common in older men, though it can occur at any age. If you have these risk factors, we encourage you to have your primary care physician check for lumps at your annual physical exam.
As men tend to have much less breast tissue compared to women, some of the signs can be easier to notice in men than in women. However, men are often diagnosed at a later stage than women. Why? Because they are either unaware that changes in their breast or chest area could mean breast cancer or are simply embarrassed and don’t go to their doctor to be checked.
What Men Can Do
Maintaining an ideal body weight and limiting alcohol consumption are two things a man can do to lower breast cancer risk. However, the cause of most breast cancers is not known, so there is no way to prevent them.
Sources for Women’s Information:
American Cancer Society
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Human Services