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Breasts & Men

?Because men’s bodies were never designed to be able to breastfeed infants, men do not share the same complex breast growth and development that all women experience. A young male adolescent body at the time of puberty will produce a whole lot of testosterone and far less estrogen than women’s bodies. This hormonal effect effectively halts breast development in men. Most men’s breasts do have small milk ducts and perhaps a minor network of tiny lobules in them, but for the most part men’s breast tissue remains totally inactive and undeveloped.

Men do not have the same complex breast structure as women do and they accordingly experience far less medical problems with the their breasts. However, this does not mean men never have breast problems at all and while it is rare, men can and do get breast cancer. The rates of breast cancer incidence and mortality are much lower among men than among women though. The numbers come from various sources, but it is estimated that for U.S. men in 2011 alone there will be about 2,000 new cases of breast cancer and over 400 deaths from it. Men and women both have about the same survival rates for breast cancer once it has been detected, but men since most men don’t notice or report early symptoms, they are usually diagnosed at a later stage than women.

The symptoms of breast cancer that men can experience but are often unlikely to report include any changes in the breast tissue or nipple itself. Although men don’t think about their breasts much as a general rule, and because they have far less actual breast tissue, some of the early warning signs of breast cancer are easier to detect in men than in women. The early warning signs that men should be aware of include any thickening, lumps, redness, rash or discharge from the nipples. Men who notice any of these signs or other changes in their breasts or nipples should always consult their health care provider immediately, however any of these symptoms could also just be the symptoms of a much less threatening benign breast condition that is non-cancerous.

The most common benign breast condition in men is gynecomastia, an enlargement of the breast tissue that is usually the result of a hormone imbalance. Although some doctors have speculated that gynecomastia may be related to male breast cancer, most studies have failed to find a link between the two conditions. Gynecomastia generally does not require any treatment unless it causes pain. If pain is present, gynecomastia can be treated with hormone therapy or surgery.

As men age, their risk of breast cancer increases and accordingly, most cases of breast cancer in men occur between the ages of 65 and 67. However, the single largest risk factor for male breast cancer is Klinefelter's syndrome, a condition that occurs when men are born with two X chromosomes instead of one, and results in very high estrogen levels for males. Sadly, men with Klinefelter’s syndrome have up to a 50 times greater risk of developing breast cancer compared to men without it. Other conditions like heavy alcohol use, chronic liver disease and obesity can also increase the estrogen levels in men and result in an increase for risk of breast cancer too.

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