Men can hear it too: “You have breast cancer”
Army Col. Craig Shriver is director of the John P. Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and professor of surgery at Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.
THe Military Health System is taking extra steps to spread awareness about healthy lifestyle choices, cancer screening, disease and other potential health risks that can affect men of all ages. MHS officials are encouraging men to be aware of one unexpected health risk in particular that may come as a surprise to most: male breast cancer.
Males make up less than 1 percent of all new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. every year, but MHS officials are urging men, especially those who have a family history with the disease, to be mindful of its risk and to seek advice if a lump is found in the chest area.
Army Col. Craig Shriver, director of the Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, encourages all men to be aware of the potential risks of the disease and the benefits of being checked out by a physician if a lump appears.
“For most men, it’s just kind of shock at the recognition that they could even be getting such a diagnosis,” Shriver said. “It’s not even on their radar as a possibility. The most typical symptom for males is a lump, and many times the lump isn’t felt by the patient but by a partner, interestingly.”
With about 2,600 new cases a year, according to the American Cancer Society, male breast cancer cases are significantly less common than female breast cancer, and are typically found at a later stage in males. While most female breast cancer is picked up in early mammography nowadays, men have no recommended screening program and often do not consult a physician until well after a lump has appeared.
“In almost every case that I see these men, and I see these men here at this center, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve had that lump for a couple of years and finally my wife told me to go get it checked out,’ or ‘It started bothering me.’ But almost always, it’s been there for quite a period of time and the man has just ignored it,” Shriver said.
Little research is available on male breast cancer due to the low number of men diagnosed with it, and no data currently links general military service and an elevated risk of developing breast cancer. However, high levels of estrogen and family history are the most significant risk factors for male breast cancer. Males aged 50 or more should be wary of any lumps that appear in the chest region, but it is most likely to affect men in their 60s and 70s.
“Awareness is key,” Shriver said.