Breast Cancer In Men: How Do Doctors Diagnose The Condition?

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Breast cancer is not just a disease that affects women. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, doctors diagnose 2,600 new cases of breast cancer in men every year, and 440 men will die of the condition in the same period. While the disease is rare compared to female breast cancer, men who think they may have the condition will want to understand more about the symptoms and how doctors diagnose this condition. Find out here.

How breast cancer affects men

While men do not normally have breasts in the same way that a woman does, men's bodies do contain a small amount of breast tissue, which sits just behind the nipples. Breast cancer can develop in this tissue, as it would in a woman's breast, but the possible area affected is obviously much smaller for a man.

Men with breast cancer often notice a hard, painless lump or swelling in this tissue. Other symptoms can include:

  • Skin dimpling in the affected area

  • Nipple turning inward

  • Redness or scaly skin on or around the nipple

  • Nipple discharge

These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have breast cancer, but if you spot anything unusual, you should always consult your doctor immediately. Men over the age of 60 are at higher risk of the condition, especially if they are obese. A family history of the condition (male or female) also increases your risk.

Tests and diagnostics

Your doctor will initially carry out a physical examination. He or she won't just look at the breast area because the disease can sometimes spread to other parts of the body. As such, your doctor may look for evidence of enlarged lymph nodes under your arms, which may indicate the cancer has spread further. Unfortunately, the rareness of the condition means that many men overlook the early signs, which can allow the cancer to progress further.

If the physical examination suggests you may have cancer, your doctor will recommend one or more further tests to confirm the diagnosis. These could include:

  • A mammogram. This diagnostic is an X-ray of the breast. The doctor will have to temporarily flatten the breast between two plates. This is a little uncomfortable, but not painful. A mammogram can detect problem areas, but you may then need a biopsy to allow laboratory tests on a sample of suspicious tissue. For information on mammograms, contact a company like EVDI Medical Imaging.

  • An ultrasound or sonography. This test is painless and does not use radiation. The ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image on a special screen. The sound waves can detect and show abnormalities in the tissue.

  • An MRI scan. An MRI scan uses radio waves and magnets, which create a detailed image of the scanned area on a special computer screen. MRI scans are painless, but they can take some time to complete. You'll need to lie face down in a narrow tube with special openings for each breast. The machine can then take images without compressing the tissue. An MRI scan may follow a mammogram, as this type of image can more precisely identify a general problem that comes up on a mammogram.

Other things to consider

Breast cancer is rare in men, so American doctors do not recommend routine screening. As such, it's important that men (especially those in the high-risk category) regularly inspect their bodies for any early signs.

That aside, a lump in the breast tissue does not automatically mean you have breast cancer. For example, breast lumps are quite keen in teens and adolescents, and these growths often go away on their own. As such, you shouldn't panic just because you find something unusual.

Some men also mistake breast cancer for a condition called gynecomastia. This condition occurs when excess breast tissue develops in men. People often refer to the symptoms as 'man boobs'.  Gynecomastia is not a form of breast cancer. Many things can cause this, including medications like steroids and anti-epilepsy drugs, but the excess breast tissue is normally smooth and rubbery, while cancer will normally appear as a small, hard lump. Nonetheless, you should always get your doctor to check anything unusual.

Breast cancer is rare in men, but the condition can kill. Talk to your doctor for more advice and information about any concerns you may have.