One study found that male breast cancer is on the rise, with a 25% increase over the 25 years from 1973 to 1988. But it's still rare. It's unclear whether the reported rise means the disease is slowly becoming more common, or whether men better understand the symptoms and report their symptoms, leading to diagnoses that might have been missed in the past.
If you notice any persistent changes to your breasts, you should contact your doctor. Here are some signs to watch for:
- a lump felt in the breast
- nipple pain
- an inverted nipple
- nipple discharge (clear or bloody)
- sores on the nipple and areola (the small ring of color around the center of the nipple)
- enlarged lymph nodes under the arm
It's important to note that enlargement of both breasts (not just on one side) is usually NOT cancer. The medical term for this is gynecomastia. Sometimes the breasts can become quite large. Non-cancer-related enlargement of the breasts can be caused by medications, heavy alcohol use, weight gain, or marijuana use.
A small study about male breast cancer found that the average time between first symptom and diagnosis was 19 months, or over a year and a half. That's a very long time! This is probably because people don't expect breast cancer to happen to men, so there is little to no early detection.
Earlier diagnosis could make a life-saving difference. With more research and more public awareness, men will learn that — just like women — they need to go to their doctor right away if they detect any persistent changes to their breasts.
"I knew I had a problem for a couple of years — something wasn't quite right — a disfiguration. I had a pre-employment physical and the doctor said, 'You ought to go see your personal physician.' What happened is that the breast cancer had metastasized to my hip, so I had to have a hip replacement. They found out that the cause of that was breast cancer. That's why I say, 'Don't put off what seems to be minor.' If you have any suspicion that something is abnormal, don't hesitate — go do something about it."
— Larry, living with metastatic male breast cancer