Men face small but deadly threat of breast cancer Women more likely to spot disease early

November 30, 1991|By Marlene Cimons | Marlene Cimons,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- If you're a man who assumes that breast cancer is only a woman's disease, you're wrong.

To be sure, the disease is rare in men. This year, an estimated 900 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in men, compared with 175,000 cases in women.

But even though the incidence of breast cancer in men is low, the death rate is not. About 300 men -- one-third of those who develop the disease -- are likely to die from it this year, compared with one-fourth of the women.

The reason is that men simply are not trained to look for it, physicians say. "If a man finds a lump, he's most likely to ignore it," said Dr. Carl Mansfield, a cancer specialist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Men "think it's a woman's disease," he said.

Breast cancer in women is a devastating national health problem, but thanks to extensive education programs, women are well aware of it. They know that they should examine their breasts monthly, undergo regular mammograms and report suspicious lumps to their physicians.

Because the disease is so rare in men, they are far more likely not to recognize the symptoms or take them seriously until it is too late.

Men also are at a disadvantage because they typically have less breast tissue than women. As a result, once a tumor is found, it has often invaded the surrounding tissue -- making it harder to treat.

"It's such an unusual event in men, so they typically aren't screened," said Dr. Ruthann Giusti, special assistant for clinical science in the cancer treatment division of the National Cancer Institute.

The symptoms in men are the same as in women: unusual changes in the appearance of the breast or nipple, discharge from the nipple, a lump or swelling in the breast or a lump under the armpit -- which could mean that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

Treatment is also similar: surgery alone, or followed by radiation, chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

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