New research has shown that male breast cancer sufferers often do not receive treatment until the disease has developed to such an extent that measures to combat it are hampered.
Although most breast cancer patients are women, men make up roughly 1% of cases. A study by the Orion Collaborative Group found that of 146 men with invasive breast cancer diagnosed over a 17-year period, the disease had often already reached an advanced stage when they 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.
"Male breast cancer is a rare disease and not well known," lead researcher Dr Marina Garassino told a European Society for Medical Oncology conference. "It is treated the same way as female breast cancer, although our large retrospective series suggests that it has somewhat different histological characteristics."
"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 added. "Therefore it is important that every mass in a man's breast must immediately be considered suspicious."
She said that, if treated early enough, the disease is highly responsive to hormone therapy.