You are just about 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than your beau, but he should still be feeling himself up.
Doctors used to think that the prognosis of male breast cancer was bleak compared to that of female breast cancer, when, actually, they're the same. The problem is that men often don't notice changes in their breast tissue. Even if they do, they aren't as likely to go to the doctor.
"Men should be aware of what's normal for their bodies," says Debbie Saslow, Ph.D., director of Breast & Gynecological Cancer at the American Cancer Society. "And they should go to the doctor."
The American Cancer Society estimates 1,910 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year. Most cases occur in men between the ages of 60 and 70, but it can appear sooner. Now is the time to determine what's normal—and to start developing healthy habits.
The risk factors are similar to those of female breast cancer: excessive use of alcohol, obesity, liver disease, or exposure to estrogen or radiation. But about one in six cases of breast cancers in men are inherited, compared with about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers in women, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Apart from checking into relatives' medical histories, men can tell if they are likely to inherit breast cancer by testing for a defect in breast cancer gene 1 or 2 (BRCA 1 or BCRA 2). A simple blood draw and a few weeks' waiting is all he needs to know.
If he tests positive, he has a 6 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. That's a great enough possibility that he should perform monthly self-exams, says Beth Overmoyer M.D., assistant professor of Medicine at the Breast Oncology Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. If he's not too keen on the idea, suggest checking him out each month yourself. He should also check in with his doc every six months.
Still, men don't need to rush out and get mammograms. Since most men have very little breast tissue for the lump to hide beneath, lumps are easily detectable by touch, Overmoyer says.
Feel for a small lump or even just a thickening of the breast tissue. If he feels a mass, there's no need to panic. They aren't always cancer. They can be benign cysts or just collections of fat tissue, but the only way to know for sure is to visit the doctor.
"Many men are embarrassed and often don't seek consultation," Overmoyer says. "It's just cancer that happens to be in a man. If they visit their doctor, they can either find reassurance that everything's OK or they can find a cure."