Putting the Focus on Male Breast Cancer

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Recent results highlight that men with the disease have not lived as long as female patients have during the past three decades.

close up of a man's chest looking for signs of male breast cancer | Image credit: © Antonio Tanaka - © stock.adobe.com

Male breast cancer advancements are lagging behind those made for females with the disease.

Breast cancer-specific survival has improved significantly for women during the past 30 years; however, the same cannot be said for men with the disease, according to recent study results.

Breast cancer is relatively uncommon in men, accounting for less than 1% of cancer diagnoses — compared with 30% for women. As such, there are not as many advances in the male breast cancer space. The results of this study highlight the need to improve breast cancer-specific survival in men, according to Dr. Jose Pablo Leone, lead author on the study and director of the program for breast cancer in men at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“I think it’s important to look at the progress in our field, both for women and men with breast cancer, and understand if we have seen progress or not, and where,” he said in an interview with CURE®. “And I think our study in that regard highlights the need for additional efforts to improve survival in men with breast cancer specifically, and also to mirror what we have seen in women. I think understanding where the differences are, and where the lack of improvement is, is important. And I consider our study as a first step, hopefully of many, to come to improve outcomes for men with breast cancer.”

The study included 8,481 patients categorized in three groups depending on the period in which they received their breast cancer diagnosis: 1988-1997, 1998-2007 and 2008-2017. At five years, breast cancer-specific survival was 83.69%, 83.79% and 84.41% in the 1988-1997, 1998-2007 and 2008-2017 groups, respectively, demonstrating little improvement over time.

Of note, this was apparent regardless of disease stage. Overall survival (time from diagnosis or treatment start when patients are alive) was 64.61%, 67.31% and 69.05%, respectively. This is consistent with improvements in life expectancy that has been seen over time, Leone noted.

There can be multiple reasons why breast cancerspecific survival is not improving among men as it has among women. For example, it could be that the standard-of-care treatment, Nolvadex (tamoxifen), has not changed over time, Leone said. The study also did not include information on treatment received, whether it was chemotherapy or endocrine therapy, so researchers need to learn more about how different treatment affect men.

“I think one of the main things is to go deep into the research,” Leone added. “And we need the contribution from everyone in our field, from all stakeholders — we need the collaboration between researchers, patients, academic institutions to be able to work together into the common goal of improving outcomes in male breast cancer. I think patients in general have a very good role in this. And I look forward to working more on this field to help patients.”

Leone highlighted an upcoming clinical trial that will evaluate endocrine therapy options for male breast cancer. Investigators are hoping these possibilities are as effective for men as they are for women, providing options beyond Nolvadex. “I think it will be helpful for patients to look forward to that study and it will be for men with newly diagnosed breast cancer so that we can together work in making progress in this field,” he concluded.

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