Accounting for less than one percent of all occurrences of breast cancer, male breast cancer affects about 2,500 men each year in the United States. While it may develop in males at any age, statistically breast cancer in men presents itself during the ages of 60 and 70 rather than earlier in life or at an advanced age. Since breast cancer is something most men don't have in their radar, an emphasis on early detection is especially important to decrease the risk of it spreading to other tissues, especially for men who may be at risk for developing this type of cancer.
If breast cancer is something runs in your family, you may be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer, even if you're a man and other males in your family haven't had it. Individuals who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene may also be at risk. Having liver disease or a condition like cirrhosis that affects the liver may reduce levels of male hormones in men and increase levels of female hormones, resulting in an increased risk of breast cancer.
Fat cells can convert male hormones into estrogen, making obesity another risk factor. Males who have Klinefelter's syndrome, a condition characterized by having an extra X chromosome, have abnormally developed testicles that often results in lower testosterone production and higher estrogen levels. Exposure to estrogen with hormone therapy for prostate cancer or as part of sex-change procedure may also increase the risk of developing male breast cancer, as can having a condition that requires the removal of a testicle (orchiectomy).
Since men don't do for regular mammogram screenings, self exams are an effective way to detect something that may be out of the ordinary. Male breast self-examination should be done once a month and it should be part of your routine physical exam if any of the risk factors apply to you. Don't second-guess what's "normal." Some irregularities in your breast area may be perfectly harmless and normal. Even so, there is no way to know for certain that a mass isn't something that needs attention without confirmation from your doctor or a specialist.
According to the American Cancer Society, male breast cancer is highly curable. It's also typically a smaller affected area (usually around nipples) than the female version of breast cancer. Early detection increases the odds of experiencing positive results. If you feel anything out of the ordinary during a self-exam, don't hesitate to tell your doctor. Even if turns out not to be nothing, the peace of mind you'll get from knowing for sure is worth the effort.