Male Breast Cancer: Know Your Risk
- Entertainment executive Mathew Knowles, who is a male breast cancer survivor, sends hopeful message to those diagnosed with breast cancer.
- He prefers to be called a “make chest cancer” survivor.
- Knowles, now 70, is known to be a powerful voice in the music world, as the father of Beyoncé and Solange Knowles and chief executive officer of Music World Entertainment.
- Men should know their risk factors and not be ashamed if they are diagnosed with male breast cancer.
Knowles, now 70, is known to be a powerful voice in the music world, as the father of Beyoncé and Solange Knowles and chief executive officer of Music World Entertainment, author, professor, and public speaker.Read More
“You are strong, you are powerful, and you are a survivor,” he added.
Knowles is a well-informed role model in the cancer community and he shared his cancer battle with SurvivorNet last year to encourage people to be proactive about their health, and to let men know they can get breast cancer, too.
How Common Is Male Breast Cancer?
As of January 2022, the American Cancer Society estimates about 2,710 new cases of invasive male breast cancer will be diagnosed and about 530 men will die from breast cancer.
This year marks two years since Knowles breast cancer diagnosis. The “male chest cancer survivor,” as he prefers to be called, carries the BRCA gene mutation. This means that his children have a 50% chance of also carrying the gene that predisposes you to certain types of cancers. (In a prior interview, Knowles says that Beyoncé and Solange have tested negative for the gene mutation.)
A male breast cancer diagnosis is uncommon and many men likely don’t know what symptoms to watch for, and some don’t even know that they can develop the disease. Several risk factors increase men’s chances of getting breast cancer, and it is important for men with these risk factors to be vigilant:
- Age. Breast cancer risk increases with age, and most cancers are found in patients over 50. The average age of a man diagnosed with breast cancer is 72.
- Family history. Men with close blood relatives who have had breast cancer are at higher risk for the disease.
- Genetic mutations. Patients may inherit gene defects that make them more susceptible to breast cancer. Men with a mutation in the BRCA2 gene have a 6% lifetime risk of breast cancer, and men with a mutation in the BRCA1 gene have a 1% lifetime risk. These gene mutations are most commonly found in families with strong histories of breast or ovarian cancer, but they have also been found in male breast cancer patients without a family history.
- Klinefelter syndrome. Men with Klinefelter syndrome are born with at least one extra X chromosome. An extra X chromosome may increase a man’s breast cancer risk by producing high levels of estrogen (a hormone responsible for female sex characteristics) and low levels of androgens (hormones responsible for male sex characteristics). This condition affects about 1 in 1,000 men, and can raise the risk of breast cancer by 20 – 60 times that of the general population.
- Hormone therapy. Men who have been treated with drugs containing estrogen are at a greater breast cancer risk. These drugs were once used to treat prostate cancer, and they are still used in sex reassignment processes.
- Conditions affecting the testicles. Testicle injuries, swelling, or removal surgery can increase men’s breast cancer risk by disrupting normal hormone levels.
- Liver disease. Diseases that impede the liver (like cirrhosis) may raise men’s estrogen production and lower their androgen levels, increasing breast cancer risk.
- Alcohol. Heavy drinking is known to raise the risk of breast cancer (which may be related to alcohol’s effect on the liver).
- Radiation therapy. Men who have received radiation therapy to their chests (for conditions like lymphoma) have a higher breast cancer risk.
- Obesity. Fat cells can transform androgens into estrogens, boosting the possibility of an overweight man developing breast cancer.
Symptoms to Watch Out For
- A lump developed in the breast (usually painless), or a thickening in the breast tissue
- Nipple pain
- An inverted nipple
- Discharge from the nipple, which may be clear or bloody
- Changes to the color or texture of the nipple and areola
- Changes to the color or texture of skin on the chest
- Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm
BRCA Mutation Developments
BRCA, (a breast cancer gene mutation) is actually two genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), each proteins that work as tumor suppressors. They help repair damaged DNA, and are important for ensuring the stability of each cell’s genetic material.
If you have this mutation there are a number of new treatment options thanks to a class of drugs called PARP (poly adenosine diphosphate-ribose polymerase) inhibitors.
Individuals with a BRCA gene mutation lose the ability to produce proteins that repair damaged DNA. Cells without these proteins can grow abnormally and become cancerous. PARP, an enzyme that helps repair DNA damage in cells, allows cancer cells to repair themselves.
A PARP inhibitor such as olaparib (also known as Lynparza) interferes with that process, effectively limiting the ability of cancer cells to repair properly and multiply.
If you have BRCA mutated high-risk, HER2-negative early breast cancer and have been treated with chemotherapy either before or after surgery, the FDA’s approval of olaparib (Lynparza) might be relevant for you.
While Knowles might not have gotten this treatment, it could be an option for you. If you do not know the genetic make-up of your cancer, please ask your doctor.
You’re Not Alone
While male breast cancer is uncommon it’s important to know there are other men out there with this cancer.
Marc Futterweit is a two-time male breast cancer survivor who has taken his advocacy for the disease on the road. In a previous interview, he told SurvivorNet that a lot of men either don’t report their symptoms, or they wait too long to report symptoms — and at that point, the cancer has spread.
“The problem with men is that they wait, they think things are going to go away and then there’s a real problem,” he says. “When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t tell my wife. I thought I was holding it together.”
Futterweit said, he actually didn’t tell his family for a while after he was diagnosed. He didn’t know how they would react, but when they did find out they rallied around him and brought him the support he needed.
With assistance from Sydney Shaefer and Joe Kerwin