Breast cancer is a malignant tumour which has developed from cells in the breast. Although breast cancer occurs mainly in women, it can occasionally occur in men though this is quite rare. Many people are not aware that men also have breast tissue which can develop into breast cancer and this is given a very low priority by the medical profession.
Prior to puberty, young girls and boys only have a small amount of tissue in their breast which consists of only a few tubular passages known as ducts. These are located under the areola and the nipple.
During puberty, the girls ovaries produce female hormones which cause the ducts in the breast to grow in preparation for lactation. The milk glands known as lobules form at the end of these ducts, and fatty and connective tissue known as stroma increases.
Hormones which are produced by males testicles work in the opposite way and prevent breast tissue from developing. So although mens breast tissue does contain ducts, it only has a few lobules.
A mans breast duct cells can develop cancerous changes, just like the rest of the cells in his body. Because woman have more breast cells than men, breast cancer is more common in women than men because their breast cells are exposed to the effect of female growth hormones. The male hormone tends to suppress this effect.
Types of Disease
However there are a lot of different types of breast disorders which can affect men and women the same although most of them are benign. Benign tumours are not cancerous and do not spread outside the breast. They are also not life threatening though can cause concern.
Malignant tumours are cancerous and can be life threatening. (Benign tumours are particularly rare in men).
The lymphatic vessels are an important part of the breast. However if breast cancer occurs, they can be the biggest carrier of the cancerous cells.
The lymphatic system carries the lymph which is a clear liquid containing tissue fluid, the immune system cells and any waste products the body may be disposing of.
Lymph nodes are small oval shaped cells situated within the immune system and they are located along the lymphatic vessels. Because the lymph system is so efficient, it is possible for cancer cells to enter the lymphatic vessels and spread to the lymph nodes extremely quickly this causing spread.
The majority of lymphatic vessels within the breast connect to lymph nodes situated under the arm which are known as axillary lymph nodes. Some lymphatic vessels connect to lymph nodes inside the chest which are known as internal mammary nodes and above or below the collarbone, known as the supra or infraclavicular nodes.
When cancer cells reach the axillary lymph nodes, they may continue to grow. This causes the lymph nodes in that area to swell. Should the breast cancer cells spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, they are very likely to have spread to the other organs of the body as well. (This is known as metastic spread). Therefore when choosing a suitable treatment, it is important to establish whether the breast cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes or whether it has been contained.