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Breast cancer in men is a reality

Karen Hawthorne is a health and lifestyle writer and producer in Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications including Glow, Homemakers, and the National Post.

Men need breast cancer check-ups, too

People don't associate men with breast cancer, but men have breast tissue, too, and male breast cancer is a reality. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, at least 2,000 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and 440 deaths will be related to male breast cancer by the end of 2015.

Men and women need to be proactive for each other

It's just a woman's fight or just a man's fight. Even though male breast cancer is much more rare, the disease is no less deadly when a man is diagnosed. Men and women need to practice regular self-checks to become aware of changes, such as lumps. Mammograms and sonograms can detect breast cancer before a lump is even noticeable. Men and women who are at high risk for breast cancer should have an annual screening and perform monthly self exams to catch breast cancer while it is in its earliest stages. Not all lumps and breast tissue changes are breast cancer, but even benign breast conditions should be checked by a health professional to rule out other major health issues. Awareness and early detection are crucial for men and women — making this October, National Breast Cancer Awareness month — a reminder for all adults to be proactive.

Breast cancer is easier to detect in men than women

Although breast cancer is easier to detect in men, since an asymmetrical lump in the male breast is more apparent, many men ignore symptoms, which can include lumps, pain in the breast or discharge from the nipples. This means men are also diagnosed at later stages of breast cancer, when treatment is more rigorous and potentially not as successful.

The warning signs are not different in men, but can more deadly in men by delaying detection if they are stubborn about seeing a doctor.

More: My husband got breast cancer

Visual changes are the biggest warning signs

The risk of breast cancer increases with age, family history, and lifestyle factors, but regardless of risk, men and women should know what is normal for their breasts. Early detection and prevention are more likely for men and women who become familiar with the feel and appearance of their breast tissue because they will be more sensitive to any changes.

In the past, experts suggested that a breast self exam be done by following a particular method every month, but research has shown that this isn't necessary. For men or women, there really isn't a right or wrong way to check breast tissue; the real key is just being aware of any changes in the tissue of the breast and nipples, under the armpits, and the area extending up to the collarbone. Any changes, particularly asymmetrical, should be brought to the attention of a health professional immediately.

More: Woman shares important breast selfie to show commonly missed breast cancer sign

Symptoms of breast cancer

Early stage breast cancer usually doesn't cause symptoms. Most often, the disease is first noticed as a painless lump in the breast or armpit. As the undiagnosed tumor grows, it can change the appearance and feel of the breast which is why early detection is key and why men are encouraged to get and lumps checked by their doctor.

  • Lumps, often painless but still tender
  • Nipple discharge or itchy, scaly rashes on the nipple
  • Inverted nipple
  • Puckering of the skin on the breast
  • Change in size or shape of the breast
  • Ridges or pitting of the skin around the breast that looks like the skin of an orange

Any change in the breast tissue or surrounding area should be brought to the attention of a doctor.

See your doctor because early detection is a life-saver

Men and women should see a doctor about any change in breast tissue that does not go away. Although these symptoms are most often not cancerous, another health problem could be the cause. Many people are alive and well today because their breast cancer was detected and treated early. It's important to know that no screening test for cancer is 100 percent accurate but, overall, screening for breast cancer can save the lives of both men and women.

More: Top 10 ways to prevent breast cancer

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