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Higher Mortality Rates Reported Among Males with Breast Cancer

Diagnosing a male patient with breast cancer is a rare occurrence (about 1 percent of all cases), but it’s one that requires careful thought and attention. Differences in survival between male and female patients with breast cancer have been reported in the past, but not fully investigated.

A new study, recently published in JAMA, seeks to change that. It offers a close look into some of the underlying factors associated with sex-based disparity in mortality amongst breast cancer patients.

What Did the Study Find?

A team of researchers, including Dr. Xiao-Ou Shu, MD, PhD, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, found that mortality after cancer diagnosis was higher among male patients with breast cancer compared to their female counterparts. Biological attributes, treatment compliance and lifestyle were just some of the many factors that should be identified in the future to help eliminate the disparity.

RELATED: Women With High “Biologic” Age Have Elevated Breast Cancer Risk

“Male breast cancer is rare, but it’s there,” Dr. Shu tells Florence-Health. “From a treatment perspective, it is really important to figure out whether male and female breast cancers have a different biology and whether we need to treat them differently.”

Using data from the National Cancer Database, Dr. Shu and her team analyzed a sample of 16,025 male and 1.8 million female patients diagnosed with breast cancer between 2004 and 2014. Here are some of the highlights from their findings:

  • Men had higher mortality across all breast cancer stages.
  • The three-year survival rate for men was 86.4 percent, compared to 91.7 percent for women.
  • The five-year survival rate for men was 77.6 percent, compared to 86.4 percent for women.
  • For male patients, clinical characteristics and under-treatments correlated with 63.3 percent excess mortality rates.

The data sample contained higher proportions of male patients with advanced disease compared to female patients, indicating a potential lack of screening of breast cancer in men, possibly due to lack of awareness.

Dr. Shu said there needs to be future research conducted on why clinical and biological characteristics may have different implications for survival in male and female patients with breast cancer.

“Male breast cancer is less common, so there are not many studies specifically focused on male breast cancer patients,” she says. “We hope this [study] will increase awareness of this risk so that there will be more research in the field.”

What Can Healthcare Providers Do?

According to Dr. Shu, previous research has shown that males are less likely than females to comply with their given treatment plan.

“It’s a major concern,” she adds. “It could be that the treatment is equally as effective for males and females, if they all comply. Healthcare providers must encourage patients to stick with their treatment plan.”

RELATED: How to Talk to Cancer Survivors About Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

Dr. Shu also suggests that clinicians proactively educate male patients about the risk of getting breast cancer and about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Survival in women, men diagnosed with breast cancer, JAMA Oncology.
Higher Mortality Seen for Male Breast Cancer Patients, Physician’s Weekly.

Last updated on 9/28/19

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