The available treatments for male breast cancer are the same with the treatments for female breast cancer. These treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. Some of these treatments may not be applicable to the patient; it depends on his age and the stage of his cancer. He would be advised by his doctor about the best treatments he would take. The doctor will also tell him about the duration of the treatment and the possible side effects. It would be helpful for him to seek advice from males who have survived breast cancer. They could share their experiences about the treatments.
A male with breast cancer usually undergoes more than one type of treatment. He could take surgery followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Whatever the treatments, the main goal is to remove all the cancer cells and prevent them from occurring again.
The following are the treatments for male breast cancer.
Surgical Operation of the Breast: Mastectomy
Mastectomy is performed by a surgeon. There are three types of mastectomy: simple mastectomy, modified radical mastectomy, and the sentinel lymph node biopsy.
Simple mastectomy involves the removal of all breast tissues which include the ducts, lobules, fatty tissues, skin, nipple, and the areola. In this operation, only the breast tissues are removed and not the chest wall muscles where the breast is attached. The operation is usually followed by radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy to ensure the eradication of all cancer cells.
The modified radical mastectomy is performed if the cancer has spread in the chest wall muscles. Some lymph nodes in the vicinity of the breast are also removed if they already contain cancer cells.
In the sentinel lymph node biopsy, the doctor examines the sentinel node for the presence of cancer cells. The sentinel node is the first node where tumor cells drain so it is the first node that could develop tumor. If the sentinel node contains tumor, it would be removed surgically and nodes connected to it are examined. If tumor is absent in the node, it indicates that other nodes connected to it are less likely to have tumor so no further examinations are needed.
Radiation Therapy for Male Breast Cancer
In this therapy, a radiation oncologist will use high-energy radiation to shrink tumor cells before the surgery (mastectomy) or to kill remaining cancer cells after the surgery. A patient will need to wait for three to four weeks after the surgery before undertaking radiation therapy. This is to give the body a time to heal. If the doctor advises the patient to undergo chemotherapy, he should first complete all chemotherapy treatments before being treated with radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is painless and only takes few minutes but the breast may look like being sunburned after the treatment sessions. The patient may also feel soreness to his breast. This therapy is given to a patient five days a week for about six months.
Chemotherapy for Male Breast Cancer
After surgery, the doctor will advise the patient to take two or more types of drugs that will kill cancer cells which may have spread to other body parts. These drugs are administered by pill, intravenously, or both. The drugs may have side effects which include hair loss, vomiting, nausea, and tiredness. Chemotherapy may also affect the patient’s memory and concentration. In some cases, the drugs can cause acute myeloid leukemia one to two years after the treatment. Chemotherapy is administered to the patient every two or three weeks for three to six months.
Hormone Therapy for Male Breast Cancer
Hormone therapy is used to control the effects of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen enhances the multiplication of cancer cells in the body. It is known as a female hormone but a small amount of it is found in the male body. This hormone binds to the estrogen receptor found in the cell membrane of cancer cells. When the estrogen binds to the cancer cell, a series of biochemical reactions will happen until the cell will undergo division.
Synthetic hormones are used to block estrogen from binding to the receptors. These synthetic hormones are called selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). Tamoxifen (brand name: Nolvadex) is an example of SERM that is now used to treat males with breast cancer. The male hormones (androgens) were also found to affect the growth of cancer cells. Anti-androgen drugs are administered to the patient in order to limit the production of androgen. One example of such drugs is the luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analogue. This drug causes the testes to limit their androgen production.