How Much Do You Know about Male Breast Cancer? Let’s Find Out!

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

DR NIK MUHD ASLAN ABDULLAH
Clinical Oncologist
Sunway Medical Centre
BREAST CANCER AFFECTS MEN AS WELL AS WOMEN

Breast cancer in both men and women share many similar attributes.

The most common kinds of breast cancer in men are the same kinds that are present in women, namely:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (or DCIS)

Dr Nik Muhd Aslan Abdullah says that breast cancer is, however, rare among men.

WARNING SIGNS

According to Dr Nik, many of the most pressing early warning signs of breast cancer in men are also similar to those found in women, such as:

  • Lumps in the breast tissue
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple retraction
  • Unusual discharge from the nipple
HORMONAL CHANGES CAN GIVE RISE TO BREAST CANCER

One reason why breast cancer is rare among men is that the hormone testosterone inhibit the growth of breast tissue, while oestrogen stimulates breast tissue growth.

While men and women have both hormones in their bodies, men have higher levels of testosterone compared to women. On the other hand, women have higher levels of oestrogen.

Some breast cancer cells have special structures at the surface, called hormone receptors. These cells are called hormone-receptor positive (HR positive for short). Oestrogen can bind to these receptors to cause the growth of these cells. Dr Nik explains that men have a higher possibility of developing breast cancer cells that are HR-positive, when compared to their female counterparts.

“Breast cancer cells in men are sensitive to hormonal imbalances,” Dr Nik explains, “so any factors or conditions that can lead to an excess of oestrogen and a lack of testosterone will increase their risk of developing breast cancer.”

What can cause the raise in oestrogen levels in men?
  • Klinefelter syndrome, a rare genetic condition in which a male has an extra X chromosome and produces lower levels of androgens
  • Injury to the testicles
  • Use of androgen inhibitors
  • Liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • Obesity 
Family history also plays a factor

About 1 out of 5 men with breast cancer is found to have had a family history of the disease.

This is because men can also inherit a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes or in other genes, such as CHEK2 and PALB2. These mutations will highly increase their risk for breast cancer.

“Unfortunately, we do not have a say in the types of genes we inherit,” Dr Nik says.

He recommends that men with a family history of cancer should consider seeking counsel from their doctors about going for genetic screening tests as soon as they can, especially those over the age of 50.

Genetic screening tests involves taking a blood sample for analysis. A genetic counsellor will then advise the person, based on the results given, on what the next best steps would be for him.

How to conduct self-breast examination for men. Click the image for a larger version.
MEN WITH HR-POSITIVE BREAST CANCER ARE MORE LIKELY TO RESPOND TO HORMONE TREATMENTS

Dr Nik explains that hormone therapy can be used to help lower the risk of the cancer cells spreading or treat cancer that has come back after treatment.

Why then do men with breast cancer have lower survival rate compared to their female counterpart?

“Through many of the studies that I’ve seen, men who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a 8-9% lower survival rate than women,” Dr Nik says.

He attributes this to the fact that men with breast cancer are often diagnosed late.

“Men will sometimes wait too long to seek out a diagnosis for the symptoms they may be experiencing,” he explains, “or not recognize the warning signs of breast cancer in their bodies.”

As a result, they delay seeking help, and tend to do so only when the cancer has become advanced and spread to other parts of the body.


Dr Nik encourages men to seek a doctor’s opinion if they find themselves experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms related to breast cancer. “Breast cancer can be cured, and it is very treatable if detected early on,” he says.

Important Things That You Should Know About Silent Heart Attacks

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

DR PATRICK TIAU WEI JYUNG
Consultant Cardiologist
Sunway Medical Centre

Dr Patrick Tiau reveals that silent heart attacks, also known as silent myocardial infarction, account for 45% of heart attacks.

These heart attacks are “silent” because they occur without the usual, recognizable symptoms of a heart attack.

COMMON SYMPTOMS OF HEART ATTACK
  • Chest pain (often described as heavy or pressure sensation)
  • Radiating pain in the arm, neck, or jaw
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
HOWEVER, THESE SYMPTOMS ARE USUALLY NOT PRESENT WHEN ONE HAS A SILENT HEART ATTACK!
Because of this, many people may not know that they have experienced one until days or even weeks after.

However, Dr Patrick shares that there are some early warning signs to look out for.

SIGNS THAT YOU MAY HAVE HAD A SILENT HEART ATTACK

It’s good to consult a doctor when you have concerns, especially if you experience these signs and fall under the high-risk below (see below).

  • Feeling tired
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Sweating.

Dr Patrick says, “We have come across many patients who have dismissed the early warning symptoms as simply feeling tired, indigestion, nausea or sweating. By the time they seek out medical treatment for these symptoms, they are shocked to learn that what they are experiencing is actually due to a reduced blood flow to their heart, and that has caused them to have a silent heart attack.”

Silent heart attacks can lead to more serious health complications if left untreated over an extended period of time, such as an increased risk of another, potentially more deadly heart attack.

COMMON RISKS OF SILENT HEART ATTACKS
RISKS THAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED 
  • Age. The risk increases as we grow older.
  • Gender. Men are more at risk than women. However, women are more prone to a higher risk of complications after experiencing one, especially if they are diabetic.
  • Family history. The risk is higher for people with a family history of heart diseases.
RISKS THAT CAN BE MODIFIED 
  • Smoking. Chemicals in cigarettes stimulate one’s heartbeat and can dramatically increase one’s risk of heart attack.
  • High cholesterol. Individuals with elevated cholesterol levels can lead to formation of atherosclerotic plaque in the blood vessel and reduce blood flow to the heart.
  • High blood pressure: Having high blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart muscle. Over time, this causes the heart muscle to stiffen, thicken, and perform less optimally.
  • Individuals that are overweight or obese, especially when their weight tends to sit at the waist, are more at risk even if they do not have any other risk factors.
  • Physical inactivity. Doing regular exercise helps protect the heart by keeping under control other risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

“Undeniably our heart health is essential to allowing us to have a well-balanced and fulfilling life,” he says. “The heart itself is the first and last sign of life that is responsible for, quite literally, keeping us going. In combatting heart attacks, the most important thing to remember is that prevention is definitely better than cure.”

DR PATRICK’S TIPS TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF SILENT HEART ATTACKS

Make the necessary small changes to daily lifestyle to reduce one’s risk factors. These changes include:

  • Regularly monitor blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Get sufficient exercise
  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains
  • Ensure that one’s blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are well-controlled
  • Inform a doctor as soon as possible about any unusual symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack

Once you go home from the hospital, it is essential that you keep taking your medications as prescribed. “This will ensure your heart health is kept in check, possibly for the rest of your life,” says Dr Patrick.

Consider joining a support group. Dr Patrick acknowledges that heart attack survivors may start to develop feelings of shock, sadness, and anxiety. This is normal, and these feelings can be managed with the right support.

“Some people find it helpful to join a support group where they can talk with others that have gone through a similar experience, or seek out companionship and encouragement through avenues such as the gym, or yoga classes,” he advises.