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Men’s health issues: Breast cancer

Breast cancer is not limited to women. Although men have much less breast tissue than women, they do have breast cells that can undergo cancerous changes. Women are about 100 times more likely to get breast cancer, but any man can develop breast cancer. Male breast cancer is most common in men between the ages of 60 and 70.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer may help save your life as the earlier the disease is discovered, the more treatment options and the better chance of recovery you have. Most breast lumps aren't cancerous. Yet the most common sign of breast cancer for both men and women is a lump or thickening in the breast, often the lump is painless.

Other signs of breast cancer include:

  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Development of a new retraction or indentation of the nipple
  • Redness of scaling of the nipple or breast skin
  • A spontaneous clear or bloody discharge from the nipple

Risk factors: A risk factor is anything that makes it more likely you'll get a particular disease. But not all risk factors are created equal. Some, such as your age, sex and family history, can't be changed. Others, including smoking and a poor diet, are personal choices over which you have some control.

Having one or even several risk factors doesn't necessarily mean you'll become sick - some men with more than one risk factor never get breast cancer, whereas others with no risk factors will.

Factors that may make you more susceptible to breast cancer include:

  • Age. Breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed in men between the ages of 60 and 70, with the average age being 67.
  • Family history. If you have a close relative, such as a mother or sister, with breast cancer, you have a greater chance of also developing the disease. About one in five men with breast cancer have a relative who's had it, too. Just because you have a family history of breast cancer doesn't mean it's hereditary, though.
  • Liver disease. If you have liver disease, such as cirrhosis of the liver
  • Excess weight. Obesity may be a risk factor for breast cancer in men, because it increases the number of fat cells in the body. Fat cells convert androgens into estrogen, increasing the amount of estrogen in your body and, therefore, your risk of breast cancer.
  • Excessive use of alcohol. If you drink heavy amounts of alcohol, you have a greater risk of breast cancer.

Screening and self examination: Because breast cancer amongst men is not as common as in women, the NHS does not undertake routine screening mammograms. So practice breast awareness. This involves getting to know what is normal for your breasts in terms of look and texture, so you can spot any changes and get them checked out as soon as possible. In particular, you should look for lumps or thickening of the tissue and the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Unusual appearance or sensation
  • 'Tethering' of the skin, as if being pulled from the inside

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