Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 29, 2021
It's Rare, but Men Get It, Too
All babies are born with breast tissue that contains milk ducts. Though it develops differently over time, both men and women can get breast cancer. Women have a much higher risk. Less than 1% of all breast cancer cases are in men.
Spot the Symptoms
You might notice a lump or thick area in your breast tissue. You may also spot something different about your nipple, like redness, scales, or discharge.
What Causes Breast Cancer in Men?
No one knows exactly what causes male breast cancer. Studies suggest changes in your genes or hormone levels can play a role.
As you get older, your chances of getting male breast cancer go up. The average age of men when they get a diagnosis is 72.
If you're a heavy drinker, it puts you at higher risk for male breast cancer. Alcohol can damage your liver, which could put your hormone levels out of whack. For instance, your estrogen levels may rise, which could raise your chances of getting breast cancer.
Medical Issues That Raise Your Risk
If your chest has been treated with radiation for another type of cancer, you have a greater chance of getting male breast cancer. Your odds also go up if you took estrogen for prostate cancer or have testicular issues like an undescended testicle, surgery to remove a testicle, or you've had mumps as an adult.
The Role of Genes
You're at an increased risk if a blood relative -- man or woman -- has had breast cancer. That's also true if you inherited a gene change (called a mutation) like BRCA1 and BRCA2. Klinefelter syndrome, in which boys are born with an XXY chromosome instead of XY, raises your odds of getting male breast cancer 20 to 60 times.
Most male breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, or cancer that starts in your milk ducts. Lobular carcinoma, or cancer of the glands that make milk, is even more rare. This is because men have so few of those glands in their breast tissue. Other rare types are Paget's disease of the nipple and inflammatory breast cancer, which makes your breast feel swollen and warm.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor makes a diagnosis based on a combination of tests and procedures. During a breast exam, your doctor looks for visual changes and uses their fingers to feel for lumps. You may have an imaging test, like a mammogram or ultrasound, for an inside look. You may get a biopsy. In this procedure, the doctor uses a needle to remove tissue to check for cancer cells.
Your doctor can check the stage of your cancer with bone, CT, or PET (positron emission tomography) scans. Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV. Stage 0 means that the cancer hasn't left the milk ducts. Stage IV means it's spread to other parts of your body. This is also called metastatic cancer. Once you know your stage, your doctor can narrow down your treatment options.
Surgery is the most common treatment for male breast cancer. It usually involves a mastectomy, which removes your breast tissue, nipple and areola, and any surrounding lymph nodes where the cancer may have spread. Radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or chemotherapy may also be used to slow growth and kill cancer cells.
You'll have follow-up visits after surgery to make sure everything's healing well. You'll also get exams and tests every 3 to 6 months to see if the cancer has come back. If you stay cancer-free for 5 years or more, you may move to a yearly visit. You'll also have an annual mammogram if you still have breast tissue in one breast.
Pay Attention to Breast Changes
A lot of men aren't aware that breast cancer can be a problem for them. As a result, men are less likely to speak up about breast changes and often get diagnosed at a more advanced stage of breast cancer than women. Always see your doctor if you notice anything unusual in the area of your breast.
If you are a male with breast cancer, you should consider talking to a genetics counselor to see if genetic testing is right for you. A simple blood test can determine if you have certain genes that could make it more likely for you to get certain other cancers as well.
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Susan G. Komen: "Breast Cancer in Men."
National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc.: "Male Breast Cancer."
American Cancer Society: "What Is Breast Cancer in Men?"
Mayo Clinic: "Male Breast Cancer."
American Joint Committee on Cancer: "Cancer Staging System."