Infertile men may be twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those without fertility problems, new research suggests. The study also found that there were significantly more childless men among those who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Scientists from the London Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) suggest that the findings indicate that more work is needed to understand the underlying causes of male breast cancer, something that is largely unknown. Study author Dr Michael Jones, a senior scientist in genetics and epidemiology at the ICR, said: “These are important findings linking infertility to breast cancer in men.
“Our study suggests that infertile men may be twice as likely as those without fertility problems to develop breast cancer. The reasons behind this association are unclear and there is a need to investigate the critical role of male fertility hormones in breast cancer risk in men.
“We hope this can lead to insights into the underlying causes of male, and possibly even female, breast cancer.” She added: “Breast cancer is often thought of as something that only affects women, but men can also be diagnosed with the disease.”
New research from the Breast Cancer Now male breast cancer study looked at 1,998 men newly diagnosed with the disease in England and Wales over a 12-year period. Around 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, and because male breast cancer is rare, research into the disease is generally limited to a small number of patients.
Studying a larger group of men allowed the team to show a statistically significant association between infertility and the risk of invasive breast cancer in men. The men were asked if they had biological children, if they or their partners had ever had trouble conceiving, or if they had visited a doctor or clinic for fertility problems.
The researchers directly compared the fertility of men with breast cancer to that of 1,597 men with no history of the disease. While the biological reason is unclear, they found that men diagnosed with breast cancer were more likely to report fertility problems.
Dr Simon Vincent, Director of Research, Advocacy and Influence at Breast Cancer Now, said: “Discovering a link between infertility and male breast cancer is a step towards us understanding male breast cancer and how we can find more ways of diagnosing and treating men — and possibly women — with this devastating disease. Importantly, we hope the knowledge we’ve gained from this study reaches more men who could benefit from learning about male breast cancer.”
Dave, from Bristol, was a police officer for 22 years before retiring to set up his own IT company. In 2015, the 64-year-old woman was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has since undergone a mastectomy, treatment and now she is in good health, but she still takes medication to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. Dave said: “I was on holiday in Florida celebrating my birthday when I found a lump in my breast in the shower.
“It wasn’t painful and I didn’t tell anyone because life seemed normal. I didn’t know that men should be checked for breast cancer, but I know that if your body changes you shouldn’t leave it, so I went to see my GP as soon as I got home and was referred to see a specialist. .
“Despite being told it was probably just a fat deposit, I had an ultrasound and biopsy. A week later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tumor was the size of a golf ball.” She added: “My mother died of ovarian cancer when she was 68, and I knew there was a link between ovarian and breast cancer, but little is known about male breast cancer in general.
“People will say, ‘I didn’t realize men could have that,’ and to be honest, I didn’t think I’d ever get it.” The findings are published in Breast Cancer Research.
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