Awareness of male breast cancer is low and most men do not even know they are at risk despite an increase in cases, reveals new research from the University of Leeds.
Breast cancer is very much seen as a female disease with around 48,000 diagnoses in women in the UK each year. However around 340 men, equivalent to 30 football teams will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year and around 70 men will die.
Funded by Breast Cancer Campaign and Yorkshire Cancer Research, University of Leeds researchers reviewed male breast cancer cases in four Western countries; England, Scotland, Canada and Australia. In England, the incidence of male breast cancer was seen to rise over a 20 year period: from 185 cases in 1986 to 277 cases in 2006. This corresponds to a rise of one third from 0.5 to 0.7 cases per 100,000 of the population.
Pinpointing an exact cause for this increase is difficult, according to Dr Valerie Speirs, who led the study. “Lifestyle changes over the latter decades of the 20th century, leading to increased obesity, physical inactivity and development of a binge drinking culture may be contributing factors. Some of the same inherited genetic changes that increase the risk of women developing breast cancer are also thought to influence risk in men,” she said.
Most of the information used to diagnose and treat men with breast cancer comes from studies of female breast cancer. The new data pointing towards a rise in cases, published in the on-line journal Breast Cancer Research, provides impetus to study the biology of male breast cancer in more detail. Men need to get the right information, treatment and emotional support, the researchers concluded.