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How to recognize male breast cancer

In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

Even though men don’t have breasts like women, they do have a small amount of breast tissue. The “breasts” of an adult man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty. In girls, this tissue grows and develops, but in men, it doesn’t.

But because it is still breast tissue, men can get breast cancer. Men get the same types of breast cancers that women do, but cancers involving the parts that make and store milk are rare.

Doctors used to think that breast cancer in men was more severe than it was in women, but it now seems that it’s about the same.

The major problem is that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. This may be because men are less likely to be suspicious of something strange in that area.

Which Men Are More Likely to Get Breast Cancer?

It’s rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer. A man’s chance of getting breast cancer goes up with age. Most breast cancers happen to men between ages 60 and 70.

Other things that raise the odds for male breast cancer include:

  • Breast cancer in a close female relative
  • History of radiation exposure of the chest
  • Enlargement of breasts (called gynecomastia) from drug or hormone treatments, or even some infections and poisons
  • Taking estrogen
  • A rare genetic condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome
  • Severe liver disease, called cirrhosis
  • Diseases of the testicles such as mumpsorchitis, a testicular injury, or an undescended testicle
  • Obesity

Symptoms

Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those in women. Most male breast cancers are diagnosed when a man discovers a lump on his chest.

But unlike women, men tend to delay going to the doctor until they have more severe symptoms, like bleeding from the nipple. At that point, the cancer may have already spread.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The same techniques that are used to diagnose breast cancer in women are used in men: physical exams, mammography, and biopsies (examining small samples of tissue under a microscope).

Likewise, the same treatments that are used in treating breast cancer in women — surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy — are also used to treat breast cancer in men. The one major difference is that men with breast cancer respond much better to hormone therapy than women do. About 90% of male breast cancers have hormone receptors, meaning that hormone therapy can work in most men to treat the cancer.

Sources

SOURCES:
National Cancer Institute.
American Cancer Society.
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Breast cancer is often thought of as something that only affects women, but men can get it in rare cases. It grows in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples.

It usually happens in men over 60, but can very occasionally affect younger men.

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Symptoms of breast cancer in men

The symptoms of breast cancer in men include:

  • a lump in the breast – this is usually hard, painless and does not move around within the breast
  • the nipple turning inwards
  • fluid oozing from the nipple (nipple discharge), which may be streaked with blood
  • a sore or rash around the nipple that does not go away
  • the nipple or surrounding skin becoming hard, red or swollen
  • small bumps in the armpit (swollen glands)

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have:

  • a lump in your breast
  • any other worrying symptoms, such as nipple discharge
  • a history of breast cancer (in men or women) in members of your family and you’re worried about your chances of getting it

It’s very unlikely you have cancer, but it’s best to get your symptoms checked. Your GP will examine your breast and can refer you for tests and scans for breast cancer if needed.

If you do not have symptoms but have a clear family history of breast cancer, your GP may refer you to a genetic specialist to discuss your risk of getting it.

There are some inherited genes that increase your risk of cancer and a blood test can be done to check for these. Read about testing for cancer risk genes.

Treatments for breast cancer in men

The treatment for breast cancer in men depends on how far the cancer has spread.

Possible treatments include:

  • surgery to remove the affected breast tissue and nipple (mastectomy) and some of the glands in your armpit
  • radiotherapy – where radiation is used to kill cancer cells
  • chemotherapy – where cancer medicine is used to kill cancer cells
  • other medicines that help stop breast cancer growing – including tamoxifen and trastuzumab (Herceptin)

Many men have surgery followed by 1 or more of the other treatments. This can help stop the cancer coming back in the future.

Outlook for breast cancer in men

The outlook for breast cancer in men varies depending on how far it has spread by the time it’s diagnosed.

It may be possible to cure breast cancer if it’s found early.

A cure is much less likely if the cancer is found after it has spread beyond the breast. In these cases, treatment can relieve your symptoms and help you live longer.

Speak to your breast care nurse if you’d like to know more about the outlook for your cancer.

Causes of breast cancer in men

The exact cause of breast cancer in men is not known, but there are some things that increase your risk of getting it.

  • genes and family history – inheriting faulty versions of genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases your risk of breast cancer
  • conditions that can increase the level of oestrogen in the body – including obesity, Klinefelter syndrome and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)
  • previous radiotherapy to the chest area

It’s not certain that you can do anything to reduce your risk, but eating a balanced diet, losing weight if you’re overweight and not drinking too much alcohol may help.

Page last reviewed: 18 March 2020
Next review due: 18 March 2023

Breast cancer in men is a rare disease. Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. In 2020, about 2,620 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease, and an estimated 520 men are expected to die from breast cancer. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 833.

You may be thinking: Men don’t have breasts, so how can they get breast cancer? The truth is that boys and girls, men and women all have breast tissue. The various hormones in girls’ and women’s bodies stimulate the breast tissue to grow into full breasts. Boys’ and men’s bodies normally don’t make much of the breast-stimulating hormones. As a result, their breast tissue usually stays flat and small. Still, you may have seen boys and men with medium-sized or big breasts. Usually these breasts are just mounds of fat. But sometimes men can develop real breast gland tissue because they take certain medicines or have abnormal hormone levels.

Because breast cancer in men is rare, few cases are available to study. Most studies of men with breast cancer are very small. But when a number of these small studies are grouped together, we can learn more from them.

In this section, you can learn the basic information about male breast cancer:

The medical experts for Male Breast Cancer are:

All people, whether male or female, are born with some breast cells and tissue. Even though males do not develop milk-producing breasts, a man’s breast cells and tissue can still develop cancer. Even so, male breast cancer is very rare. Less than one percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men, and only one in a thousand men will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. Men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.

Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma

Of the men who develop breast cancer, the vast majority of those cases are Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), which means cells in or around the ducts begin to invade surrounding tissue. Very rarely, a man might be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, or Paget disease, of the nipple.

How to recognize male breast cancer

Risk Factors

  • Radiation exposure
  • High levels of the hormone estrogen
  • Family history of breast cancer, especially breast cancer that is related to the BRCA2 gene.

Signs & Symptoms

Male breast cancer can exhibit the same symptoms as breast cancer in women, including a lump. Anyone who notices anything unusual about their breasts, whether male or female, should contact their physician immediately. Survival rates and treatment for men with breast cancer are very similar to those for women. Early detection of breast cancer increases treatment options and often reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Genetic Testing

Although treatment outcomes are very similar to women at the same stage of detection, a man diagnosed with breast cancer should also consider seeing a genetics counselor for a consultation. If a man tests positive for a defective gene (most commonly either BRCA1 or BRCA2) that can lead to a future diagnosis of breast cancer and his children have a 50% chance of carrying the gene. In addition:

  • A male child of a man with breast cancer who inherits the defective BRCA2 gene has only approximately 6% chance of eventually developing breast cancer and just over 1% with BRCA1.
  • A female child of a man with breast cancer who inherits the defective gene has a risk between 40% and 80% of eventually developing breast cancer.
  • Men with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer are also at higher risk of getting prostate cancer at a younger age than usually diagnosed.

Male breast cancer is a relatively rare cancer but one that doctors often diagnose in the later stages. Knowing how to recognize the signs can help a person get early treatment.

Male breast cancer accounts for fewer than 1% of all cancer diagnoses worldwide.

A man’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is about 1 in 833, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The outlook for male breast cancer is excellent if diagnosis occurs in the early stages. However, early diagnosis is not always possible.

One factor in diagnosis delay is a lack of awareness. While many women know how to look out for changes that could indicate breast cancer, there is less awareness among men, which means they may be less likely to seek help in the early stages.

Breast cancer can also affect males differently, as they have a small amount of breast tissue in comparison with females. This can make it easier to detect small lumps, but it also means that the cancer has less room to grow within the breast. As a result, it may spread more quickly to nearby tissues.

For these and other reasons, around 40% of men with breast cancer receive a diagnosis in stage 3 or 4, when the disease has already spread to other parts of the body. As a result, overall survival rates are lower for men than for women.

Read on to find out more about how to recognize male breast cancer and what to do if changes occur.

How to recognize male breast cancer

Share on Pinterest The main symptom of male breast cancer is a lump in the breast area.

Possible symptoms of male breast cancer include:

  • a lump in one breast, which is usually painless
  • nipple retraction, ulceration, and discharge
  • skin puckering or dimpling on the breast
  • redness or scaling of the skin on the breast or nipple

If cancer spreads, additional symptoms may include:

  • swelling in the lymph glands, in or near the underarm area
  • breast pain
  • bone pain

The prognosis for breast cancer in men is similar to that in women.

According to the American Cancer Society, the chances of surviving 5 years or more after diagnosis are, on average:

  • 96% when cancer affects only the breast tissue at diagnosis
  • 83% when it affects nearby areas as well as the breast
  • 23% when it has spread to other parts of the body

For this reason, it is essential to seek help as soon as a person notices changes. Early stage breast cancer responds well to treatment.

Diagnostic methods and treatments have improved in the last few years, and so the chances of living for at least 5 years after diagnosis are probably higher than the above figures for people currently receiving a diagnosis.

If a person notices changes in their breast, they should see a doctor.

The doctor will ask about symptoms and the individual’s personal and family medical history, including any history of estrogen use or radiation treatment.

They will also carry out a physical examination.

They may suggest the following tests:

  • a mammogram
  • an ultrasound
  • a nipple discharge test
  • a biopsy

Sometimes, a doctor will recommend removing a lump and carrying out a biopsy at the same time. They may only remove a part of the area that appears to be affected and carry out a test, or they may remove the whole area, including some of the normal breast tissue surrounding it.

If results show that cancer is present, several treatment options are available. The choice will depend on how big the tumor is and whether cancer has spread to other areas.

Surgery

Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast and some of the surrounding tissue.

Breast-conserving surgery: The surgeon removes only part of the breast.

Lymphectomy: The surgeon removes the affected lymph nodes.

A doctor will advise on the best option.

Radiation therapy

Some people may need radiation therapy after surgery to remove any remaining traces of cancer. It is also a treatment option in the later stages of the disease.

Estrogen hormone therapy

In some cancers, estrogen receptors are present on the walls of the cancerous cells. In these cases, estrogen helps the cells to divide and grow.

Hormone therapy can block the effects of estrogen and slow the growth of cancer.

Tamoxifen prevents estrogen from entering the cancerous cells. Another drug, toremifene (Fareston), is similar but only has approval for people with late stage breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Aromatase inhibitors block the effects of the aromatase protein. This, in turn, reduces estrogen levels in the body. These drugs have proven effective in treating breast cancer in women, and some doctors prescribe them for male breast cancer.

Fulvestrant (Faslodex) destroys estrogen receptors. Doctors may prescribe it for people with late stage breast cancer.

Depending on the type, hormone treatment can have adverse effects, such as hot flashes, sexual problems, fatigue, mood swings, a higher risk of blood clots, bone thinning, and pain in the muscles and joints.

Chemotherapy

In some cases, a doctor may recommend chemotherapy. This is treatment with a drug that kills cancer cells. A doctor often gives it as an injection, but sometimes a person can take it by mouth.

Chemotherapy can prevent cancer from returning if a person uses it after surgery, or treat the symptoms of late stage cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Adverse effects include:

  • hair loss
  • mouth sores
  • nausea and vomiting
  • changes in appetite
  • a higher risk of infection
  • fatigue
  • easy bruising or bleeding

Most adverse effects of chemotherapy disappear after the treatment finishes.

Learn more here about chemotherapy, what it involves, and its effects.

Targeted therapy

Various genetic features and changes can affect an individual’s risk of cancer. As scientists learn more about the link between different genetic mutations and cancer, they are developing drugs that can target the specific changes that result.

Targeted therapy is a relatively new type of cancer treatment that affects proteins that are involved when specific genetic changes lead to cancer. It is different from chemotherapy as it does not target the whole body.

For example, in some men with breast cancer, there is too much of a protein known as HER2 on the surface of the cancer cells. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than some other types.

Some drugs, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin), appear to slow the progression of cancer by targeting HER2.

Mutations in the BRCA genes and other genes also cause protein changes, and targeted therapy may help in these cases, too.

Scientists have identified other genes that affect the course of breast cancer and continue to develop drugs that may improve the outlook for people with these specific changes.