12 October 2006

Breast cancer lethal for men

Breast cancer is mistakenly looked upon as a women’s disease, but a greater proportion of men than women die from the disease - mostly as a result of late diagnosis.

Breast cancer is mistakenly looked upon as a women’s disease, but a greater proportion of men than women die from the disease - mostly as a result of late diagnosis.

According to Dr Sally Phillips, Chief Medical Officer of Discovery Life, breast cancer affects roughly 120 to 140 times more women than men. but that a greater proportion of men die from the disease.

“A lot of ignorance exists about the condition in men and it’s often fatal," Phillips said in a prepared statement.

“For example, in the US, 19 percent of females diagnosed with breast cancer will die and 27 percent of males, mostly due to late diagnosis. Not much data is available in South Africa, but the experience here will be similar," she said.

Men typically suffer from breast cancer between the ages of 60 and 70 years while women are most at risk between 40 and 50.

“But because many men are often too embarrassed to go to a doctor with a breast lump, diagnosis is made more frequently in the later, rather than earlier stages," Phillips said.

What to look out for
“Men should not hesitate in going to be checked out if they have symptoms such as nipple discharge (often bloody), nipple inversion, a breast lump or an itching or a pulling sensation in the breast,” she said.

According to Dr Phillips, staging, diagnosis and treatment of male breast cancer is exactly the same as for women with similar survival times - so every effort should be made to catch the disease early.

In stage I – when cancer is confined to a small area within the breast and has not spread anywhere else in the body – men can expect a five-year survival rate of 98%. For Stage 4 (cancer spread throughout the body) this drops to 54%.

Risk factors in men
Breast cancer risk factors for men are thought to be increased oestrogen (related to other medical problems), smoking, radiation exposure and the Breast Cancer 2 gene which can be diagnosed by genetic testing on a blood sample.

“If close family members have had breast cancer it might be advisable to get checked out by your doctor. Carriage of the Breast Cancer 2 gene in males is also associated with cancer of the prostate, stomach, pancreas and melanoma,” she said.

Breast cancer should not be confused with gynaecomastia – a benign swelling and enlargement of the breast.

“Dealing with this is more of an emotional issue than a survival problem, unless related to alcoholism," she said.

“The main problem males face when being diagnosed with breast cancer is often not the cancer itself, but rather the embarrassment of the type of cancer, which leads to isolation and more psychological problems than in females," she continued.

“But there is no need for men to feel awkward about it, it’s increasingly being talked about and there’s no sense in ignoring symptoms that could be life threatening.," Phillips said. – (Discovery Life)

Source: Press release from Discovery Life

Read more:
Breast Centre
Man Centre

October 2006




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