Here’s Why the FDA Wants More Men to Be Included in Breast Cancer Trials

Men can develop breast cancer too, but there's little data about how various treatments affect them

(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
By Bonnie Stiernberg / September 9, 2019 3:19 pm

Breast cancer is extremely rare in men, who account for less than one percent of all the cases of the disease. But despite those numbers, as the New York Times reports, the Food and Drug Administration is calling on researchers to include more male patients in clinical trials of breast cancer treatments.

Because most breast cancer patients are women, there is often little to no data about whether various treatments are effective in men. As the Times notes, some drugs are approved only for female patients.

“It’s so frustrating in clinic to see patients and say, ‘Well, we don’t really know — the drugs have been tested in women. We think it should work in men, but there’s no real evidence to back that up,'” Dr. Sharon Giordano, a professor of breast medical oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told the publication.

Some researchers have also called for a large, international trial specifically focused on men with breast cancer to pool resources and gather as much data as possible. However, securing funding for such a trial has proven difficult. “No one wants to invest in a disease that is only one percent of all breast cancers,” Dr. Fatima Cardoso, the director of the breast unit at Champalimaud Clinical Center in Lisbon, said.

Ultimately, awareness is key when it comes to early detection of breast cancer in men — and according to Cardoso, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“Some men are not even aware they have breasts and not aware they can have breast cancer,” she said. “Even health professionals often don’t think about it. General practitioners who see male patients don’t pay attention to the breast.”

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