Being diagnosed with any type of cancer can be absolutely overwhelming and can leave people feeling isolated and lonely, unsure of where to turn to find the information and support they need. But being diagnosed with a cancer you may not have even realised you could develop can throw a whole host of extra questions and anxieties into the mix. This is the situation around 350 men diagnosed with male breast cancer each year in the UK are unfortunately often left facing.
You may have watched Dominic's story in the BBC One documentary The Big C and Me, which aired last night - Dominic is one of the few men diagnosed with male breast cancer each year, and the programme followed him through his diagnosis and treatment. Like most types of cancer, the earlier male breast cancer is spotted and diagnosed, the quicker treatment can begin and the better the chances of making a full recovery.
My role as a senior nurse on Macmillan's Support Line is to provide information and support to anyone who calls us with worries about cancer. So read on for my top facts about breast cancer in men, the symptoms to look out for and what to do if you think you might be affected.
How many men develop breast cancer?
Breast cancer in men is rare. About 350 men in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year . This accounts for fewer than 1 in every 100 cases of breast cancer.
How do men get breast cancer?
Many people don't know that men can get breast cancer because they aren't aware that men have breasts. But men do have a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples where breast cancer can develop.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?
In most men, breast cancer is first noticed as a painless lump under the nipple or areola. Other signs may include:
• an inverted nipple
• changes to the size or shape of the breast
• a rash or bleeding from the nipple
• a swelling or lump in the armpit
• an ulcer on the skin of the breast
What causes breast cancer in men?
The causes of breast cancer in men aren't fully understood, but some factors can slightly increase the risk of developing it. These risk factors include older age, inherited breast cancer genes, having one or more extra X chromosomes (known as Klinefelter syndrome), a higher oestrogen level, or being exposed to high levels of radiation. However, breast cancer in men is rare, so most men who have these risk factors will never develop it.
What are the treatments for breast cancer in men?
For most men with breast cancer, the main treatment is surgery. This usually involves a full mastectomy, removing all breast tissue and the nipple. Alongside the surgery, men may also receive chemotherapy, hormonal radiotherapy or targeted therapy treatments.
What are the side-effects of these treatments?
Surgery can cause side-effects such as numbness, tingling, fluid build-up or changes in sensation or movement. Other treatments such as chemotherapy can have a wide range of side-effects, causing symptoms such as fatigue, hair loss, nausea and an increased risk of infection.
The best thing to do if you have concerns about the signs and symptoms of any type of cancer, is to speak up and ask questions. As a Macmillan nurse I can promise you that there's nothing you should be embarrassed or worried about asking a healthcare professional - we're here to listen and to help.
No one should face cancer alone. For more information and support visit Macmillan's page on breast cancer in men or call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000 (9am-8pm, Monday-Friday).