Breast cancer is often thought of as a women’s disease. But breastcancer.org predicts that about 2,600 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year, about 1 percent of the US population.
What’s more surprising, research shows the majority of men diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any gene abnormalities or family history of breast cancer. In fact, only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers are linked to gene mutations of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. Though most of these studies are performed primarily in women, anyone, regardless of gender, with a positive BRCA 1 mutation have more than a 50 percent chance of developing breast cancer.
In addition to BRCA 1 mutations, other risk factors for male breast cancer include Klinefelter’s Syndrome and aging (the majority of men diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 60). High estrogen levels generally can increase the risk of developing breast tissue (gynecomastia) and essentially predispose a male to denser breast mass. Evidence-based medicine has not clearly established what constitutes high estrogen levels but medical professionals currently set the benchmark at above 20-30 pg/ml. Being overweight, taking hormonal medicines and liver disease can lead to a spike in a man’s estrogen levels.
The logic behind increased estrogen causing breast cancer also applies to Klinefelter Syndrome, a chromosomal disease that causes cognitive and physical impairments in some men. Men with this genetic constellation of symptoms have lower levels of male hormones and higher levels of female hormones, like estrogen, because of an extra X chromosome.
Regular visits with a primary care physician can ensure that men have their immunizations and overall health status up to date. Those who may have the BRCA gene in their family or a family member with a chromosomal disease that predisposes one to higher estrogen levels like Klinefelter’s Syndrome will be followed up more closely by their health practitioners. Otherwise, the USPSTF has not yet designated a set of guidelines to prevent breast cancer in males.