Men are diagnosed with breast cancer pretty late, with
serious implications for recovery, researchers warn. Although most breast
cancer patients are women, men make up roughly 1% of cases.
Dr. Marina Garassino from the Orion Collaborative Group
reported their findings at the European Society for Medical Oncology now on at Lugano, Switzerland.
Her group conducted a retrospective analysis of 146 men with
invasive breast cancer who were diagnosed between 1990 and 2007 across the 12
institutions in the ORION collaborative group.
What they found was that the disease often had already
reached an advanced stage when the men were diagnosed. In 50% of cases the
cancer had already reached the lymph nodes, a development that increases the
likelihood of metastatic spread to other parts of the body.
All the men underwent surgery to remove their cancer. After
surgery, 48 received radiotherapy and 100 received adjuvant chemotherapy or
hormone therapy. After a median follow-up of 5.2 years, the estimated 10-year
disease-free survival rates were 80% for men with the earliest stages of disease,
and 44% for those with the largest tumors.
When the researchers looked at the characteristics of the
tumors, they found that 73% were positive for estrogen receptors and/or
progesteron receptors. Among a sub-group of 41 patients, 48.7% had tumors that
overexpressed the protein HER-2/neu, which is an indication of an aggressive
"Male breast cancer is a rare disease and not well
known," Dr. Garassino said. "It is treated the same way as female
breast cancer, although our large retrospective series suggests that it has
somewhat different histological characteristics."
If treated early enough, the disease is highly responsive to
hormone therapy, Dr. Garassino said. In those cases, the prognosis may even be
better than in women, she added. An ongoing case-control trial is examining
"What is important for people to know is that most of
the patients in our study had a delay in their diagnosis due to the fact that a
mass in their breast was misunderstood," Dr. Garassino said.
"Therefore it is important that every mass in a man's breast must
immediately be considered suspicious."
"Better understanding of male breast cancer will also
provide better insights for treating these patients with modern targeted
therapies", the researcher added. "We are currently conducting a
molecular study on tissues to define help characteristics that might be
important for this purpose."