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Male Breast Cancer Is Different in Terms of Biology and Outcomes

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Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does happen. Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

Results from the largest study ever done on male breast cancer has found that while survival for men diagnosed with breast cancer has improved, it hasn’t kept up with the improvements in survival for women with breast cancer. The study also found that most male breast cancer is estrogen-receptor-positive.

The research was presented at the 2014 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

In the study, the researchers looked at the records and tumor samples of 1,473 men diagnosed with breast cancer and treated between 1990 and 2010 at 23 centers in nine countries.

"Although we saw a significant improvement in overall survival for male breast cancer patients over time, the prognosis for men with breast cancer has not been improving as much as for women with the disease," said Dr. Fatima Cardoso, M.D., director of the breast unit at the Champalimaud Cancer Center in Lisbon, Portugal and lead author of the study. "This is largely because male breast cancer is a rare disease -- it accounts for just 1% of breast cancers -- and we know very little about its biology and how best to treat patients."

The researchers found that the clinical and biological characteristics of male breast cancer aren’t the same as the characteristics of breast cancer in women:

  • 92% of male breast cancers in the study were estrogen-receptor-positive; in women about 70% of breast cancers are estrogen-receptor-positive
  • 5% of the male breast cancers were HER2-positive; in women about 20% of breast cancers are HER2-positive
  • 1% of the male breast cancers were triple-negative (estrogen-receptor-negative, progesterone-receptor-negative, and HER2-negative); in women 10%-15% of breasts cancers are triple-negative

Even though most of the male breast cancers were estrogen-receptor-positive, the researchers found that only 77% of the men were treated with hormonal therapy.

At the same time, even though 56% of the male breast cancers were diagnosed with tumors that were very small, 96% of the men had mastectomy and only 4% had lumpectomy.

After about 6 years of follow-up, 63% of the men were alive.

"We are continuing to analyze the tumor samples that we collected during this first part of the project," said Dr. Cardoso. "But we have also begun part two, which is the prospective register of all men diagnosed with breast cancer in many European, Latin American, and North American countries during a 2-year period. This will allow the collection of a current series of these patients and assert the ability of the network to run clinical trials in this rare disease. We also hope to soon begin part three of the project, which will be a clinical trial to test a potential new treatment option for men with breast cancer."

Because breast cancer in men is so rare, it’s hard to study the best way to treat it. In the past, most male breast cancer treatments have been modeled on treatments for women. This promising study and its future research will help doctors learn more about male breast cancer and the best way to treat it.

To learn more about male breast cancer, visit the Male Breast Cancer pages.

Read more news from the 2014 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium:

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