What Is Breast Cancer in Men?

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For both men and women, breast cancer is a malignant tumor in the breast. The tumor starts from breast cells forming a group of cancer cells. These cancer cells are like other cancer cells, possibly growing into surrounding tissues or spreading into other areas of the body.

Women more frequently experience breast cancer than men. But men have breast tissue in which cancer can develop.

Healthy Breast Structure

Whether you are male or female, your healthy breast is made up of glands, ducts and stroma. Called lobules, the glands produce milk when influenced to do so by certain hormones. The ducts are tubes responsible for carrying milk to the nipple from lobules. Stroma is fatty and connective tissue that surrounds blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, lobules and ducts.

Both boys and girls have some breast tissue until puberty at age nine or 10. This tissue contains a few ducts under the nipples and areola, the dark circular tissue around the nipple. During female puberty, the ovaries produce hormones causing growth of more ducts, lobules and stroma. Male puberty does not produce as much breast tissue or structural growth.

Role of Lymph Nodes in Male Breast Cancer

All body cells can develop into cancer. These include male breast cells. But men have less developed breast duct cells and lower levels of female hormones affecting growth of breast cells than women. Less tissue and lower female hormones causing breast cell growth equals less chance of males developing breast cancer, than their female counterparts.

One of the ways male breast cancer or female breast cancer spread is through the lymph system. This system consists of lymph nodes and lymph vessels. Lymph nodes are collections of immune system cells connected by a super highway of lymph vessels. These vessels carry clear lymph fluid in tubes much like small veins.

The lymph system carries lymph that contains tissue fluid, immune cells and waste products away from your breast. If breast cancer cells enter these lymphatic vessels, the cancer cells flow throughout the body. This is how cancer spreads to other body parts. Breast cancer cells can also grow in lymph nodes.

Most breast lymphatic vessels connect to axillary lymph nodes in your underarm. Some connect to internal mammary nodes under your breast bone, supraclavicular nodes above the collarbone or infraclavicular nodes below the collarbone.

When cancer cells spread to your lymph nodes, you experience a greater chance of metastasized cancer, cancer spreading to other parts of your body. But for some men, cancer still spreads to other parts of the body without affecting their lymph nodes.