Breast Cancer May Be Just a Touch Deadlier for Men than for Women

Christian Troy (I liked Nip/Tuck — so what? Wanna fight about it?) found out the hard way in Season 5 that men can get breast cancer, too, but new research suggests that, not only do men get breast cancer, the disease may be more deadly for them than it is for women. This is partly because many men don't know that they can even get breast cancer in the first place and therefore don't catch the disease until it's advanced to its less treatable stages, sort of the same way that men refuse to ask for directions until they're being menaced by a chainsaw-brandishing maniac somewhere in West Texas.

Ignorance, however, is not the only factor that makes breast cancer in men deadlier than it is in women. Even when cancer is diagnosed in its early stages, survival rates are lower for men than women, according to almost-aptly-named study author Dr. Jon Greif, a surgeon in San Francisco. "Men with breast cancer," explained Greif, "don't do as well as women with breast cancer, and there are opportunities to improve that. They were less likely to get the standard treatments that women get."

Though Greif and his research team found that the five-year survival rate for men diagnosed with breast cancer (any type at any stage) was 74 percent, lower than the 83 percent survival rate amongst women, they caution that the differences between male and female breast cancers may not bear out in clinical practice because their research contains one pretty significant flaw: the database of breast cancer patients kept track of which patients died, but not what they died from. It's impossible, therefore, to determine that those breast cancer patients for sure succumbed to cancer, which reminds us all that correlation does not imply causation, and that Greif is well-appraised of the scientific method's characteristic insecurity about manipulated data.

Nearly 2,200 new cases of male breast cancer are expected in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society, which also grimly estimates that 410 of those men will die from the disease. Greif's team found that men with breast cancer were more likely to be black than women (11.9 percent vs. 9.9 percent), and less likely to be Hispanic (3.6 percent vs. 4.5 percent). Tumors in men tended to be larger when diagnosed, oftentimes involving the lymph nodes and having spread to other parts of the body. Men were also less likely than women to receive a partial mastectomy or undergo radiation treatment.

The chief difference in male and female breast cancer survival rates occurs in the disease's early stages, with the percentage gap narrowing in the later stages. Still, even with evidence suggesting a difference in the way breast cancer manifests itself between the sexes, Greif points to increased awareness as a means to narrowing the survival rate gap, observing that while "women are encouraged to get breast exams [and] mammograms," men are not, thus their tumors are often larger when diagnosed. So, dudes, moral of the story — be wary of a lump or swelling, scaling of the nipple, nipple redness, or nipple discharge, because any of those symptoms could mean that you have breast cancer. Or that you're turning into a reptile, but that's only deadly if you live in some place with ungodly low temperatures, like Minnesota.

Men's Breast Cancer Often More Deadly, Study Suggests [US News]