Typically, when we think of breast cancer we think of women—mothers, daughters, grandmothers and aunts wearing pink ribbons and shirts. Though it's much rarer, men are also susceptible to breast cancer—and male breast cancer diagnosis rates are on the rise.
The American Cancer Society estimates that, compared with 231,840 new cases of breast cancer in women, 2,350 cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed by the end of 2015. Of these new cases, an estimated 440 men will die of breast cancer this year alone.
The numbers of male diagnoses seem slim in comparison to women's. But it's important to note that male breast cancer is often much more dangerous.
Janell Seeger, M.D., an oncologist with the Norton Cancer Institute in Louisville, KY, explained to USA Today that that the lack of tissue in male breasts is both a blessing and a curse. Because male breast tissue is less dense, it can be easier to detect small masses. But the lack of tissue also means that cancer can grow faster, reaching the nipple, skin, chest muscles or lymph nodes more quickly. In many cases, by the time a man's breast cancer is detected, it has already spread to other areas of the body. As a result, the diagnosis can be more severe.
Lynda Weeks, executive director of Susan G. Komen Louisville, said male breast cancer is relatively unusual. "The [rate of diagnosis in men] is approximately one in 1,000, so it's far less than females, but typically men are diagnosed at a later stage," she told USA Today.
But over the last 25 years, the rate has risen 26 percent.
Take the heartbreaking example of . Both Meg and Gerard were diagnosed with breast cancer, only years apart. When Meg Campion learned her husband had been diagnosed, she told ABC News, "It was obviously shocking. I think my first thought was, 'He's not supposed to have this, I am.'"
The couple now devotes their time to raising awareness for male breast cancer. "Eighty percent of men don't realize they can contract breast cancer," Meg Campion told ABC.
Though breast cancer may seem like a female-centric disease, it's important to remember that men can develop it as well. Those with a history of breast cancer or an inherited gene mutation should do , and men with a higher risk of the cancer should begin clinical breast exams .