News that former KISS drummer Peter Criss, he of the Catman persona, suffered breast cancer has provoked new interest in the subject of male breast cancer, a rare but potentially fatal tumor.
Men have only a small amount of breast tissue concentrated in the area immediately behind the nipple, probably the main reason that they account for only about 1% of all breast cancers. Nonetheless, about 1,990 men will develop the disease this year, and 480 will die from it (compared with more than 40,000 deaths in women), according to the National Cancer Institute. Male breast cancer carries about the same risk of death as the female version, but because it is generally detected at a later stage of progression, the perception is that it is more deadly. The disease is most common in men between the ages of 50 and 60. The lifetime risk of developing it is less than 1% for the average man, but for those carrying the breast cancer gene BRCA2, the risk increases to about 6%. Family history is particularly important: One in every five men with breast cancer has a relative who's also had it.
The primary risk factors for breast cancer in men are:
-- Genetic predisposition.
-- Klinefelter's syndrome, an abnormality of the sex chromosomes.
-- Exposure to radiation as a child.
-- Exposure to estrogen, such as is used in sex-change procedures.
-- Excess weight.
-- Excessive use of alcohol.
The most common signs of the disease include skin dimpling or puckering, development of a new indentation in the nipple, other changes in the nipple, and nipple discharge. If there are signs of disease, it can be detected with a mammogram -- although that is slightly more difficult with men because of the smaller size of the breasts. "It's amazing how they can get a guy's little pecs in that thing that the poor women go through," Criss said. "I have a whole new respect for women going through mammograms.
Most treatments for male breast cancer are the same as for women, with one exception: Breast-sparing surgery is typically not feasible because men have so little breast tissue. Removing the cancer means removing all of the breast.
Criss underwent two surgeries for his tumor but did not need radiation or chemotherapy. His doctor says he is cancer-free today.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II
Photo (top): Peter Criss in a file photo. Credit: Associated Press / Shiho Fukada
Photo (bottom): KISS. Criss is second from right. Credit: Vince Bucci / AFP Photo