Breast Cancer in Men
by Michael Jubinville, MPH
Breast cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the breast tissue. Although male breasts do not fully develop, they do contain most of the same basic breast structures as women. Male breasts include small glands called lobules, ducts, and the nipple. These structures are also surrounded by fatty tissue. All of these structures are susceptible to developing breast cancer.
Breast cancer in men is rare. This makes awareness of the disease uncommon.
Types of breast cancer found in men are:
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues including the lymph nodes. Cancer that has invaded the lymph nodes can then spread to other parts of the body. The lymph nodes most commonly associated with breast cancer are in the armpit, above the collarbone, and in the chest.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Breast cancer is more common in men aged 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your risk of developing breast cancer include:
When breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all. As the cancer grows, it can cause the following changes:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This includes a thorough manual breast exam and blood tests.
Diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy. A tissue sample will be removed and examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells.
Imaging tests can help with diagnosis and determine the extent of cancer. These may include:
The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Breast cancer in men is staged from 1-4. Stage 1 is a very localized cancer, while stage 4 indicates a spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells may also be graded by how fast they might grow and spread.
Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer.
A combination of therapies is most effective. For example, radiation may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor, or after to make sure all the cancer has been removed.
Treatment options include:
The goal of surgery is to remove the tumors and any affected tissue.
Surgical procedures include:
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink remaining tumors.
Radiation therapy can be:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream. They travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well, contributing to common side effects.
The following therapies may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy to help treat or to prevent cancer from coming back:
Cancer treatments can cause some side effects like loss of appetite, nausea, anemia, increased risk for infection, or pain. Other medications or treatments may be needed to minimize these problems throughout your cancer treatment.
There are no current guidelines to screen for breast cancer in men. Finding breast cancer early and treating it promptly is the best way to prevent death. Since breast cancer does not cause symptoms in the early stages, be aware of any changes in your body and talk to your doctor about them.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Bradley KL, Tyldesley S, Speers CH, Woods R, Villa D. Contemporary systemic therapy for male breast cancer. Clin Breast Cancer. 2014;14(1):31-39.
Breast cancer in men. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
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Accessed March 16, 2018.
General information about male breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
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Updated September 29, 2017. Accessed March 16, 2018.
Hotko YS. Male breast cancer: clinical presentation, diagnosis, treatment. Exp Oncol. 2013;35(4):303-310.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 2/24/2015
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