27/10/2017 06:23 SAST | Updated 13/11/2017 14:12 SAST

Because Men Have Breasts, They Can Also Get Breast Cancer -- Here Are The Symptoms

"Men also have breast tissue beyond the cavities."

A man clutches his breast area because of pain.
geengraphy via Getty Images
A man clutches his breast area because of pain.

Male breast cancer may be rare in South Africa, but it is real -- and more men should get screened for it.

"Men also have breast tissue beyond the cavities," said Ismael-Ian Fife, CEO of Can-Sir SA.

A breast and prostate cancer survivor, Ian Fife told HuffPost SA he never imagined he would be diagnosed with breast cancer, as he was in 2008.

"I had a lump under my nipple, and I wondered why this nipple was standing out more than the other." A subsequent doctor's consultation did not reveal any concerning diagnosis.

About six months later, however, he started developing intense pain in his chest area, with his nipples secreting a watery substance. "I then went for a second opinion and was diagnosed with breast cancer."

Fife says a misperception exists that breast cancer is only a "woman's thing", but it's not. "As a result, as men we are less likely to be suspicious that something is wrong with our breasts."

"Men delay seeing their doctors if they notice unusual signs or symptoms. For this reason, many male breast cancers are diagnosed when the disease is more advanced," according to the National Cancer Association of South Africa.

But this doesn't have to be the case.

"Go for a screening regularly. It costs you nothing to test, and it may just save your life," he advised.

Who is at risk of getting breast cancer

  • It usually occurs in older men, between the ages of 40 and 80 -- but this does not mean that younger men cannot be diagnosed with the disease.
  • The risk increases if one takes hormones such as oestrogen, for example as part of sex-reassignment surgery.
  • A family history of cancer -- if one has a close family member who had the disease, the chance increases.
"As men we are less likely to be suspicious that something is wrong with our breasts."

What are the symptoms?

They are similar to those experienced by women. These may include a lump or thickening in breast tissue, nipple retraction, spontaneous nipple discharge and redness or pain around the nipple.

The self-examination process is also similar. "With a man it's easier, because he's flat-chested."

Fife also encourages to men to "spend more time in front of the mirror" examining their breasts. This will help them notice fairly quickly if something is wrong.