Q: I just found out a male friend of mine had breast cancer. At first I thought he was joking. But it's no joke. He had a mastectomy and some follow-up chemo! How common is it and how does a guy know if he's at risk? — Phillip K, Muskego, Wis.
A: For men, the odds of developing breast cancer are about 1 in 1,000. It's 100 times more common in women, but since males are born with a small amount of breast tissue, albeit nonfunctioning, the risk is there. About 1,900 men are diagnosed annually (versus 192,000 women) and more than 400 men (40,000 women) die every year from breast cancer.
Men develop breast cancer for the same reasons women do: elevated estrogen levels; carrying around excess fat tissue, which releases inflammatory cytokines; previous radiation exposure; and a family history of breast cancer and other specific genetic risk factors. A mutation of the BRCA2 gene puts men at high risk of both breast and prostate cancer.
BRCA2 (and BRCA1) are the two breast-cancer-susceptibility genes that women are tested for if they're considered high risk and/or have a family history of cancer. Men are rarely tested for that gene mutation, but if breast cancer, especially at a young age, runs in your family, it's a good idea for both male and female family members to get the test.
Symptoms of male breast cancer include scaling, redness or dimpling of the skin covering the breast or nipple; a nipple that turns inward or has discharge; and a lump or thickening in breast tissue. Unfortunately, male breast cancer is usually diagnosed late, because men don't get symptoms checked out by a doc, figuring breast cancer can't happen to them. But guys, early detection and treatment means higher survival rates for every cancer, and this one's no exception.
Q: This time of year always sends me into a tailspin of the blues and weight gain. What can I do about it? — Sonia G., Cincinnati
A: Seasonal affective disorder is most common in middle and northern latitudes as the sun begins to set earlier and earlier. Only around 1 percent of Floridians have it, but nearly 10 percent of folks in Alaska and Yukon Territory contend with SAD.
No one's completely sure what triggers SAD, but it may stem from overproduction of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep (light shuts off its production) and changes in neurotransmitters that influence mood. Symptoms include hopelessness, irritability, craving for carbohydrates, weight gain, oversleeping and lack of interest in work or recreational activities.
Here's how we stave it off in Cleveland (Dr. Mike's town, where sunlight shrinks to 9 hours, 11 minutes on Dec. 21) and New York (Dr. Oz's town, where sunlight dips to 9 hours, 15 minutes):
What NOT to eat: Avoid processed carbs and sweets. The temporary energy bump they give you sets you up for a crash, and they cause weight gain that increases the sluggishness you're battling.
What TO eat: Start with an ounce of dark chocolate (70 percent cacao); it boosts feel-good neurotransmitters and provides a dose of inflammation-dampening, heart-friendly nutrients. And try vitamin D-3-boosting foods: salmon, mushrooms, vitamin-D fortified nonfat yogurt and niacin-rich whole grains, coffee and tuna.
Get fully D-termined: Have your vitamin D level checked; preliminary research indicates that low levels may fuel depression. Take 1,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily until you know how much you need in order to have a consistent blood level of 50ng/ml.
Make your moves: Get outside daily for at least 30 minutes. Physical activity helps regulate mood, sleep patterns and weight. You know our mantra: Head for 10,000 steps a day or the equivalent (every minute of aerobic exercise equals 100 steps).
Try blue light therapy: Blue wavelengths of light treat SAD the way sunlight does. So if SAD affects you, spend 30 minutes a day in front of a blue light. And do some sit-ups and push-ups while you're there for double protection against SAD.