Introducing Jake Deutsch, M.D., a veteran ER doctor and contributor to The Daily Details. Send your health questions to Ask@Details.com. We'll publish the answers here every Friday.
There are a few anatomical anomalies that are hard, even for me, to completely wrap my head around: seemingly sci-fi maladies like Siamese twins, multiple personality disorders, and teratomas (those abdominal tumors that contain hair and teeth). I once treated a patient with "split personality" who, depending on his identity at the moment, had different medical conditions.
Breast cancer, on the other hand, is a pervasive affliction I unfortunately see far too frequently among my patients. Though women are the primary targets, men are not immune. Below are some key facts that rarely make it to mainstream media.
Our blooming bodies: Until puberty all breasts are basically the same. Female hormones put the tissue into overdrive, causing the breasts to grow and develop a system of milk-producing glands and ducts. Thanks to testosterone, male breast tissue never really blossoms. Less breast tissue in men means less potential for it to grow abnormally into a cancer. However, if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, you don't need much to end up with a malignancy. Men whose mothers or sisters developed breast cancer before 40 should be especially vigilant about seeking professional consultation. Likewise, if a family member with breast cancer is positive for the breast cancer gene, BRCA2, you might be headed for a male mammogram.
What to look for: Symptoms guys should be concerned about when feeling themselves up are lumps in the chest area, swollen lymph nodes, and bleeding from the nipples—pretty much the same things women encounter. Fortunately, most abnormalities found in men ages 20 to 40 will be benign (not cancerous). However, in this age group testicular cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer, and detecting a breast nodule may actually be the harbinger of undiagnosed cancer of the family jewels.
How you measure up: Stats show that only one in every 1,000 men develops breast cancer, and with the 2,000 new cases that were diagnosed last year in U.S., that puts your odds at about one in 100,000. Nothing to get your tits in a tizzy over, right? Research actually shows that male breast cancer is on the rise, and some think it's related to an increase in anabolic steroid use. Gynecomastia (a.k.a. "bitch tits"), an ugly side effect of 'roids, is composed of the cancer-prone tissue, so while steroids may get you ripped faster, they might also give you a (malignant) rack.
Most men with breast cancer will be diagnosed sometime in their sixties. It was previously thought that male breast cancer was more aggressive than its female counterpart. In reality, both are equally treatable when detected early; it's just that men are often diagnosed at a more advanced stage. The good news is that breast cancer research and treatment are one of the highest priorities in medicine. Moreover, discussions like this are increasing awareness of male breast cancer, and that in turn has led to better screening, earlier detection, and very high survival rates.
—Dr. Jake Deutsch is an New York City-based ER doctor. Follow him @DrJakeDeutsch.