Mathew Knowles' Breast Cancer Diagnosis Brings Male Breast Imaging to the Forefront

Earlier this month, Mathew Knowles, the father and former manager of Beyoncé and Solange, announced that he received treatment for breast cancer. Breast cancer in men is rare, representing less than 1% of all breast cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, about 245,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,200 in men, and about 41,000 women and 460 men in the U.S. die each year. Because of its rarity, male breast cancer is not often talked about. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and all year-round, it’s important to discuss this key health topic.

Overall, breast cancer can occur in men at any age, but usually occurs in men between the ages of 60 and 70. It most commonly presents as a palpable breast lump. Risk factors include age, strong family history of breast cancer, mutations in genes such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, history of chest wall radiation, or elevated estrogen levels. 

In the case of Mr. Knowles, his doctors conducted a test that revealed he had a BRCA2 gene mutation, according to the New York Times. The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center (HDFCC) and its Center for BRCA Research say that BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes that have a usual role in our body of providing instructions on repairing damage and preventing cancer. When a family has an inherited mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, this leads to an increase in cancer risk. However, not every man or woman who has inherited a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop cancer, but people who have a mutation do have an increased chance of developing cancer, particularly cancer of the breasts or ovaries. In addition, some mutated genes related to breast cancer, such as BRCA2, are more common in certain ethnic groups.

Radiology plays an integral role in detecting and diagnosing breast cancer in men and also in the breast cancer staging process. At UCSF, a patient-centered team of radiologists in our Breast Imaging Clinical Section evaluate men with suspected breast cancer with diagnostic mammography, ultrasound, and biopsy if indicated. Once the cancer is diagnosed, UCSF radiologists’ partner with referring colleagues, including breast surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, plastic surgeons, and genetic counselors. 

Breast cancer in men is more often diagnosed at a later stage, found at a later stage, and is less likely to be cured. However, survival for men with breast cancer is the same as for women when stage at diagnosis is the same. Many men delay diagnostic evaluation and treatment for a palpable lump and should be referred immediately for clinical and imaging evaluation if they experience palpable symptoms. 

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