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How many seemingly feminine illnesses can also affect men

Think that only women need to worry about breast cancer and menopause? Think again, says our expert.  

If someone you know is experiencing a hard time after having a new baby at home, suggest that he meets a therapist
If someone you know is experiencing a hard time after having a new baby at home, suggest that he meets a therapist (Pexels)

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Would you be surprised if I said men could get breast cancer too? Most people would be. While women do not get afflicted by prostate and testicular cancer (since they have neither prostate nor testes), men can be affected by some illnesses that we stereotypically associate with women. Here are some seemingly female illnesses that men can be affected by. 

Breast cancer

The tissue that forms the breast, the fat, ducts and lobules are very sparse in children. When a girl hits puberty, under the influence of the female hormone estrogen, her breasts develop. In males, this growth is absent because of the male hormone testosterone. Despite this seeming absence of breast growth, men are not exempt from being afflicted by breast cancer. While less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men, having a strong family history of breast cancer can put a man at a higher risk of developing it. The symptoms of breast cancer in males include

  1. A painless swelling underneath the nipple and areola—the coloured portion of the breast surrounding the nipple
  2. Skin changes on the breast. For instance, the skin can be pulled inward, appearing as puckering and dimpling overlying the breast.
  3. Whitish or bloody discharge from the breast
  4. Nipple changes such as scaly skin and redness.

The exact cause of breast cancer in men is not clear, but it is mostly seen in much older males (mostly in the age group of 60-70 years) when it does happen. Every breast enlargement in men is not breast cancer—it could just simply be a hormonal condition called gynecomastia. It is also seen in liver diseases and tumours that produce the female hormone estrogen.

Also read: Why you need to eat healthy when you are pregnant

In men who have prostate cancer, one of the treatment modalities is hormonal therapy, which can lead to breast enlargement. It also puts the man at risk for breast cancer in the future. In addition, certain medications such as psychiatric drugs can put men at risk of developing breast tissue and breast cancer. If you see increased breast size or a lump, it is best to examine it by your doctor to ascertain if it is just a benign growth or cancerous tissue.

Postpartum depression in men

Postpartum depression is rising in this day and age: lack of support, sleepless nights, hormone fluctuations, and incessantly crying babies are the primary causes. These stressors wear the mother down, putting her at risk of PPD. As the couple is solely responsible for looking after the brand-new baby, fathers can also fall prey to this dreadful disease. A father’s hormone levels also change with his partner’s pregnancy, and delivery and men who experience more of these hormonal changes are prone to developing postpartum depression. They can feel defeated, anxious and overwhelmed; some can also feel increased mood fluctuations, frustration and aggression or turn to alcohol. 

PPD can also manifest as physical symptoms like unexplained vague aches and pains and chronic fatigue. Fathers are often left out of the equation once the new baby comes in. The sudden shift of attention of his partner solely towards the baby and adapting to the big change can also make the male partner more withdrawn and resentful. Paternal leave is often an urban myth now, and the lack of support can push the man over the edge. Studies also show that males whose partners were suffering from postpartum depression are more likely to suffer from PPD. These men are hands-on fathers who take an active part in helping in baby care, and the dwindling social support can cause burnout and PPD in these dads. 

Our societal constructs may make it difficult for fathers to admit that they have an issue. But if you or someone you know is experiencing a hard time after having a new baby at home, make sure you reach out to your family doctor or therapist. 

Also read: How self-reflection helps us create the space and time to know ourselves

Male menopause- Andropause

Menopause is the stopping of reproductive function in women, leading to the end of the monthly period. It can also result in mood swings, hot flashes, poor concentration and easy fatigue. But did you think menopause happens to only women? Not really. Male menopause is the gradual decline of hormone production in men; like female menopause, it comes with a host of vague symptoms such as poor concentration, low energy levels and low libido. Erectile dysfunction is one of the main complaints of age-related hormone decline in men. Testosterone decline in men is seen most commonly starting from their 40s, but it is in very small decrements so often goes unnoticed. It usually begins with mood swings, irritability, reduced stamina to exercise, decreased muscle mass and increased fat. More severe symptoms such as loss of libido, failure to get erections, infertility, fractures by low trauma and depression need to be investigated. Many regular medications can cause these side effects, too, so be sure to tell your doctor about any pills you take regularly. 

Your doctor will recommend a blood test to check your testosterone levels to rule out hormone deficiency. Doctors do not routinely recommend testosterone replacement therapy because it puts the patient at risk for prostate cancer, strokes and heart attacks. But testosterone replacement therapy can be started if the symptoms significantly affect the quality of life after counselling the patient about the risk and benefits. 

Dr Farah Adam Mukadam is a Bengaluru-based family physician and author of the book Newborns and New Moms. She vlogs on Instagram and YouTube as Dr Farah_Momstein






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