3rd week of October = Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week

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Because of the rarity of male breast cancer, which accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancers diagnosed worldwide and for 1% of all cancers in their gender, men affected by breast cancer find little support in their fight against the disease. Men are frequently excluded from breast cancer trials and, in deciding which treatments to offer, their doctors usually extrapolate evidence from the studies assessing therapies among women with breast cancer. Additionally, male breast cancers are often diagnosed later, when the disease is already more advanced, leading to a worse outcome.

The International Programme of Breast Cancer in Men: finding better treatments for men affected by breast cancer

In 2006 BIG and its North American counterpart NABCG (North American Breast Cancer Griyo) decided to join efforts to better understand this rare disease. The “International Programme of Breast Cancer in Men” was born. This is the first ever international research programme to focus solely on male breast cancer. Under the BIG umbrella, it is being led by the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) with the help of the North American Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium (TBCRC).

The objective of this programme is to gather and analyse critical medical information about the biology and evolution of male breast cancer, in order to help cancer physicians learn more about this rare disease. Only with this crucial knowledge will men with breast cancer be properly treated in the future.

"It is our obligation to learn more about male breast cancer disease, so that men with breast cancer are properly treated in the future"

The first ‘retrospective’ stage of the study, which consisted of analysing the clinical and biological data of male breast cancer cases diagnosed from 1990 to 2010, not only confirmed that male and female breast cancers are not identical, but also highlighted that men with breast cancer are not as well managed as women with the disease. This stage involved a total of 1822 male patients from the following nine countries: Belgium, the United Kingdom, Poland, The Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and the United States, making this a broadly international effort for such a rare disease.

Researchers performed an additional pathological analysis on 1203 samples from some of the male patients who participated in the first stage of the study. The findings are expected soon.

The second stage of the “International Programme of Breast Cancer in Men” is currently in progress and consists of an international registry of all male breast cancer patients treated at the participating institutions for a period of 30 months (gathering clinical data and biological material if possible). This will enable scientists to evaluate the number of patients feasible to recruit in a potential future clinical trial, likely to focus on a drug blocking the androgen receptor, a protein frequently present in male breast cancers.


Read more: Male and female breast cancers are not identical