Breast cancer is a major concern for women, but a recent study published in JAMA Oncology suggests that men should be concerned as well. Even though men have a much lower chance of developing it, their five-year mortality rate is 19 percent higher than females, according to the National Cancer Institute. So, gentlemen, it’s time to get screened.

Why mortality rates are higher in men

One reason why men may have a higher mortality rate is a lack of awareness. Around 2,700 American men will get breast cancer, which is less than one percent of all estimated cases in 2019.

Most men in the United States think this form of cancer only affects women. As a result, they may disregard early warning signs and not get a cancer screening. If they do, however, they're usually in the later stages when treatment isn't as effective.

Another reason for higher mortality rates in men is little clinical evidence for treatment. Medical experts have to base treatment methods on their experience with women. Treating breast cancer in men is similar to treatment in women, however, certain medications that work on women aren't effective in men.

Breast cancer risk factors in men

The risk factors of breast cancer are similar in both men and women. These include:

  • Age - Older men have a higher risk of developing the disease. It's more common in men older than age 72.
  • Alcohol and liver disease - Heavy alcohol consumption damages the liver. It can cause conditions like cirrhosis, a type of liver disease that causes hormone levels, mainly estrogen, to fluctuate. Liver disease also increases the risk of benign male breast growth, or gynecomastia.
  • Family history - One in five men with breast cancer have a family history of the disease. The risk is the same regardless of gender.
  • Lifestyle choices - A poor diet and little exercise can lead to obesity. And obesity can increase the risk in men and women because fat cells convert male hormones to estrogen.
  • Klinefelter syndrome - Men with Klinefelter syndrome are 20-60 times more likely to develop breast cancer than healthy men. It causes men to have another copy of the X chromosome, as women have. This leads to small testicles and more estrogen production.

Early warning signs of breast cancer in men

Although rare, men should still look for early warning signs and symptoms, which are similar to women.

Signs to watch for include:

  • The nipple turning inward
  • A lump or swelling that may cause pain
  • Skin dimpling
  • Redness of and around the nipple

Since men have less breast tissue than women, cancer can spread much quicker. For this reason, men with a higher risk should closely watch for the signs and symptoms and schedule a screening.

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