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Male Breast Cancer: The Disease No One's Talking About

Women aren't the only ones who get breast cancer. Men need to be aware of this life-threatening disease, too.

Male Breast Cancer: The Disease No One's Talking About

When discussing men's health issues, we tend to hear the same diseases brought up time and again: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, to name just a handful. But there's one other disease that's almost never brought up that I'd like to call your attention to: male breast cancer.

It may seem like an oxymoron, but it's true: Men can get breast cancer. Luckily, it's pretty rare. Male breast cancer accounts for only about 1% of all breast cancers. It's estimated that every year there are approximately 2,000 new cases of male breast cancer and 400 men will die each year from it. This pales in comparison to the roughly 40,000 women who die from breast cancer each year.

However, the small number of men who are diagnosed with and die from breast cancer is problematic due to the fact that no one is talking about it. This makes it all the more difficult for the men who do suffer from it. It's bad enough that they have a life-threatening disease, but the fact that it's so strongly associated with women can hurt a guy's manly pride.

Most men don't want to admit to anyone that they have a disease associated with "breasts." It's a little (if not a lot) embarrassing, which causes many guys to hide the fact that something's wrong and not get the support they need to deal with this serious issue. And because most men would never imagine that they could get breast cancer, they wait far too long to seek the medical attention they need when early symptoms arise.

These are some of the reasons I'm taking this time to help raise awareness for male breast cancer. My goal is to make more men realize that this is a reality and to educate them so that any man who may feel a lump in his chest or any other signs of breast cancer gets the immediate attention he needs. My other hope is to help more men who suffer with this disease come forward. Only when more men start talking about breast cancer can others find support from those who have also suffered from it.

The fact is, all men have some amount of breast tissue. And even though it's a minimal amount, cancer can still form in this tissue just like it can in a female's. If a man is diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage, he has a very good chance for survival.

But many men delay seeing their doctors if they notice unusual signs or symptoms, such as a breast lump. They're either uninformed that breast cancer is even a possibility or, as I mentioned earlier, are simply embarrassed by it. For this reason, many cases of male breast cancer are diagnosed when the disease is more advanced.

See a doctor immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • A painless lump or thickening in the chest
  • Changes to the skin on your chest (i.e. dimpling, puckering, redness, scaling)
  • Changes to your nipple, such as redness, scaling or turning inward
  • Discharge from your nipple

The best thing you can do, in addition to watching yourself for any signs or symptoms, is talk about male breast cancer with your friends. Spread the word that it exists. You never know whose life you may save with this little bit of information.

Also, if you can, be sure to donate to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (www.nationalbreastcancer.org) and the Male Breast Cancer Foundation in Memory of Mr. John W. Nick (www.malebreastcancer.org).

Top Six Cancer-Fighting Foods

CANCER-FIGHTING FOOD #1: DAIRY

Dairy products like milk, Greek yogurt, skyr (Icelandic yogurt), cottage cheese and cheese, not to mention the protein powders whey and casein, aren't just the most anabolic proteins you can consume, they're also known (and documented by piles of research) to help reduce your risk of cancer. Numerous studies confirm that dairy consumption is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal, breast, bladder, ovarian and prostate cancer.

You may have heard the complete opposite from scaremongers citing studies that suggest that eating dairy products actually increases the risk of cancer. However, a recent massive review paper concluded that the long-standing and well-proven beneficial effects of dairy on cancer prevention far outweigh the unproven negative effects. The researchers clearly stated that there's no evidence that milk consumption might increase death from any condition. They also noted that while there may be occasional reports about the probable causative effect of milk consumption on some types of cancer, it must be remembered that not only are there far more published studies showing a beneficial impact from dairy consumption, there's ample convincing evidence through thousands of years of consumption of dairy products that shows their definitive impact on health maintenance, survival and longevity.

Prevention Point: One of the many ways I like to enjoy dairy is with my Greek Pro JYM Pudding recipe.

CANCER-FIGHTING FOOD #2: TOMATOES

A recent study by UK researchers reported that men who consumed at least 10 portions of tomatoes or tomato products per week, like tomato sauce, tomato juice and ketchup, had an almost 20% reduced risk of developing prostate cancer. This new data supports earlier research showing a 35% reduction in risk of prostate cancer. Tomatoes' health-boosting benefits are attributed to the presence of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that fights compounds that can cause cell and DNA damage. One portion or serving of tomatoes is equal to one medium tomato or seven cherry tomatoes, while a single serving of tomato juice is five ounces.

Prevention Point: Greek salads are full of tomatoes. Check out my protein- and lycopene-packed GreekChicken Salad recipe.

CANCER-FIGHTING FOOD #3: DARK CHOCOLATE

Chocoholics rejoice! Research confirms that the flavanols in cocoa can reduce the risk of cancers, particularly colorectal cancer. The colon is very susceptible to the overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can provoke the production of cancerous cells. Flavanols work to neutralize ROS, and cocoa has one of the highest flavanol content of all foods. By neutralizing ROS, cocoa's flavanols help to prevent the damage they can inflict and therefore the production of cancerous cells.

Prevention Point: A great time to eat dark chocolate is before workouts, because cocoa also boosts nitric-oxide (NO) levels, likely because of the flavanol epicatechin present in cocoa. Aim for about two ounces of dark chocolate that's as close to 85% cocoa as possible with your pre-workout protein shake.

CANCER-FIGHTING FOOD #4: COFFEE

No need to feel guilty about your coffee vice. The antioxidant compounds in java appear to provide benefits for fending off prostate cancer. A recent study in the journal Cancer Causes Control reported that in more than 1,000 male prostate-cancer survivors, those who consumed four cups of coffee per day or more had about a 60% reduced risk of recurrence and/or progression as compared to men who drank one or fewer cups of coffee per week. This data supports earlier findings from Harvard's Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) that reported that men who drank six or more cups of coffee per day had a 60% decreased risk of lethal prostate cancer as compared to men who abstained from coffee.

Coffee has also been linked to a healthy liver. Research suggests that coffee drinkers may have as much as a 50% reduced risk of liver cancer. These benefits seem to stem from chemopreventive compounds in coffee such as cafestol, kahweol, chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid. Other scientific evidence has shown that caffeine delays metastasis and provides other anti-cancer effects.

Prevention Point: In the morning, I like to add a scoop of Pro JYM vanilla or chocolate cookie crunch to 10-12 ounces of coffee. This concoction offers the cancer-fighting benefits of both coffee and dairy on top of anabolic benefits and a nice "pick-me-up."

CANCER-FIGHTING FOOD #5: KALE

This leafy green cruciferous vegetable is from the Brassica family, as are broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and collard greens. Kale and the rest of the Brassica vegetables are rich in organosulfur compounds known as glucosinolates, which may help reduce the risk of cancer, particularly colon cancer. One of the major glucosinolates present in kale (as well as the other cruciferous veggies listed) is sulforaphane, which is formed when these vegetables are chopped or chewed.

One warning you may have heard about cruciferous vegetables is that they contain substances called goitrogens that can suppress thyroid function and cause hypothyroidism. But don't worry: Only excessive daily consumption of these vegetables combined with a significant deficiency in iodine can impact thyroid function.

Prevention Point: Ever tried kale chips? They're an easy and different way to reap the green's benefits. To make them, roughly chop a bunch of kale and place on a cookie sheet. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and salt to taste. Mix thoroughly, then bake the kale at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. Use a pair of kitchen tongs to mix the leaves, then continue cooking until crisp (usually another 10-15 minutes).

CANCER-FIGHTING FOOD #6: GARLIC

Garlic is well known for its cardiovascular and immune-function benefits, and it may even aid fat loss. Raw garlic also appears to provide protection from cancer, particularly stomach, colorectal and lung cancer. One study from Chinese researchers reported that subjects consuming raw garlic at least twice a week had roughly a 45% reduced risk of lung cancer. This was true even of smokers, who were found to have 30% less risk of developing lung cancer.

Prevention Point: The compounds in garlic that appear to be responsible for cancer protection are known as organosulfur compounds. One of them, allicin, is well-known for its antibiotic and antifungal properties, and since it's largely depleted when garlic is cooked or pickled, your best bet is to consume raw garlic. A great way to do this is to slice or crush it and add it to salads or salad dressings or combine it with good old #2 (tomatoes) and make bruschetta.

References

Supporting Research

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Park, Y., et al. Dairy food, calcium, and risk of cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Arch Intl Med 169:391–401, 2009.

Cho, E., et al. Premenopausal fat intake and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 95:1079–85, 2003.

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Bravi, F., et al. Coffee reduces risk for hepatocellular carcinoma: an updated meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 11(11):1413-1421, 2013.

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