It makes perfect sense that there are some health conditions that favor one sex over another. How could it not? Men and women have different genes, anatomy and predominating hormones. These variances not only influence what symptoms we experience and how we react to treatments, but also our susceptibility to disease in the first place. There are some conditions so closely aligned with women that both doctors and patients overlook them as possible diagnoses in men. But there are 2 noteworthy diseases increasingly crossing gender lines to strike men.
Breast Cancer in Men
Breast cancer occurs in women because they have breast tissue. But men have breast tissue too, just much less of it. While less than 1% of breast cancers occur in men, the incidence is on the rise. So the same advice doctors give women - investigate any changes that occur in breast tissue - should also be extended to men.
Why Men Too?
We know that high estrogen and low testosterone levels play a major role in male breast cancer because men who have abnormalities involving the testicles and problems with fertility are at higher risk for the disease. And like some breast cancers in women, estrogen seems to be a major player. Breast tumors in women can be estrogen-receptor positive, meaning they have receptors on the surface of the cells that have a particular fondness for estrogen. When estrogen locks into these receptors, they can fuel the growth of certain types of breast cancers. The same mechanism is also at work in men, whose tumors tend to be mostly estrogen-receptor positive.
Another mechanism for breast cancer in men is buried inside of genes. It turns out that men are not exempt from inheriting (or passing down to their children) breast cancer susceptibility genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, a factor in many breast cancers that run in families.
What Raises the Risk in Men?
- Klinefelter's Syndrome - A genetic disease where men have an extra X (female) chromosome causes higher estrogen and lower testosterone levels.
- Liver Cirrhosis- Since the liver is involved with the metabolism of sex hormones, damage (via infection or alcohol use) increases estrogen levels.
- Overweight - Fat cells convert male sex hormones into estrogen so being overweight and inactive can increase estrogen.
- Genetic - Men who have female family members who have the breast cancer gene, particularly if they test postive for BRCA or other breast cancer susceptibility genes, are at much higher risk.
- Radiation exposure -Radiation treatments received for other conditions can produce changes to breast cells if the rays are required to go through the chest.
Click here to learn about breast cancer risk factors that affect both men and women.