Men and Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month goes into full swing, we will be seeing a sea of pink ribbons everywhere as cancer organizations, healthcare facilities, and medical professionals hold walk-a-thons, lectures, and other educational and empowering events. But among the pink ribbons we should also be looking for the ones that are pink and blue, those that remind us that breast cancer happens to men, too.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 1,910 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2009. The chances of men getting breast cancer over a lifetime is one in 1,000, which is about 100 times less than the chances among women. About 440 men will die of breast cancer in 2009.

During puberty, the ovaries in females produce hormones that cause the ducts (tiny tubes that carry milk from the milk-producing glands to the nipple) to grow. In males, hormones restrict the growth of breast tissue, although breast tissue in males does contain some ducts. These ducts are much less developed than those in females, yet they can undergo cancerous changes in a small number of men for reasons largely unknown.

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Risk factors for breast cancer in men include older age (67 is the average age of diagnosis), family history (close male or female relative with breast cancer), genetics (the BRCA2 gene associated with breast cancer in women causes about 10 percent of breast cancer cases in men; several other genes may be involved as well), obesity, excessive alcohol use, and radiation exposure to the chest.

The pink and blue ribbon that symbolizes breast cancer in men was developed by Nancy Nick in 1996 to let people become aware that “Men Get Breast Cancer Too!” Nancy Nick started the John W. Nick Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the word about breast cancer in men, in 1995 in memory of her father. John Nick died of breast cancer in 1991 at age 58. His breast cancer went undiagnosed for many years even though John Nick went to three doctors over an eight-year period complaining of symptoms.

In June 2009, the American Medical Association (AMA) issued a new policy statement in which it recognized breast cancer as a condition that affects men as well as women. By issuing this statement, the AMA is now on record to support education efforts to increase awareness about the risks, signs, and symptoms of breast cancer in men.

Materials from American Cancer Society and John W. Nick Foundation are used in this report.

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