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.
Dr Speirs and her colleagues now plan to examine the genes and proteins involved in male breast cancers to determine whether there are similarities or differences with female breast cancer. This may help pinpoint gender-specific differences which can be exploited to improve and develop treatments specifically targeted at men.
University of Leeds researchers are collecting and storing male breast tissue samples in the groundbreaking Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank. Dr Speirs' ongoing work is also being supported by a new grant from Yorkshire Cancer Research.
"Many men are unaware they can be affected by breast cancer but this work has highlighted that the number of cases is gradually increasing. It must be stressed that the numbers are still extremely small - 150 times less than in women so we are certainly not talking about an epidemic. However better awareness is needed," Dr Speirs said.
"Symptoms include discharge from the nipple that may be blood stained, swelling of the breast, a sore or ulcer in the skin of the breast, a nipple that is pulled or retracted into the breast or a lump under the arm. If you have any of these symptoms contact your GP straight away," she added.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive, Breast Cancer Campaign said, "The study of breast cancer in men has been difficult in the past because of the relatively small number of cases. As early diagnosis and treatment is vital to increase the chances of survival, we need to raise awareness.
"The new Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank, with a core centre in Leeds, will be invaluable to researchers to enable them to understand the molecular causes, similarities and differences between male and female breast cancer, as well as testing the effectiveness of existing and new treatments."
Dr Kathryn Scott, Research Liaison Officer with Yorkshire Cancer Research said "This is a fantastic example of two charities working together to advance the knowledge into this relatively unknown disease in men. Many men do not realise they can get breast cancer and, although still rare, the incidence has risen. It is important to raise awareness because early detection is often linked to a more successful outcome for cancer patients."
For more information
Contact: Paula Gould, University of Leeds Communications & Press Office: Tel 0113 343 8059, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Claire Learner, Breast Cancer Campaign: Tel 020 7749 3705/4115, email email@example.com
Notes to editors
1. The paper: Male breast carcinoma: increased awareness needed, White J, et al, is published in Breast Cancer Care [doi:10.1186/bcr2930].
2. One of the UK's largest medical, health and bioscience research bases, the University of Leeds delivers world leading research in medical engineering, cancer, cardiovascular studies, epidemiology, molecular genetics, musculoskeletal medicine, dentistry, psychology and applied health. Treatments and initiatives developed in Leeds are transforming the lives of people worldwide with conditions such as diabetes, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. www.leeds.ac.uk
3. The Breast Cancer Campaign Tissue Bank, the UK's first ever national breast cancer tissue bank, is a unique collaboration with four leading research institutions to create a vital resource of breast cancer tissue for researchers across the UK and Ireland. Visit breastcancertissuebank.org
4. Breast Cancer Campaign aims to beat breast cancer by funding innovative world-class research to understand how breast cancer develops, leading to improved diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure. The charity currently funds 105 projects worth over £17.3 million in 31 locations across the UK and Ireland. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and accounts for nearly one in three of all cancers in women. In the UK, around 48,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year - that's 130 a day. Visit breastcancercampaign.org or follow us at twitter.com/bccampaign
5. Yorkshire Caner Research, the UK's largest regional medical research charity currently funds around 200 scientists and clinicians at its five centres of excellence in Bradford, Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and York. These scientists are among the world leaders in the fight against cancer and the charity has committed £15 million to them in their efforts to find cures for all forms of cancer. Yorkshire Cancer Research is the most cost efficient cancer research charity in the UK spending 83 pence in every pound on cancer research. Visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk for follow us at twitter.com/yorkshirecancer or on Facebook at facebook.com/yorkshirecancerresearch