About Breast Cancer in Men

Breast cancer occurs not only in women, but in men as well. Men also have breast tissue, and those cells can turn into cancer. 

Men and Breast Cancer: Statistics

According to the American Cancer Society: 

  • Breast cancer in men is rare — less than 1 percent of all breast cancer occurs in men.

  • About 2,350 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in men in the U.S in 2015.

  • Breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women.

  • About 440 men in the U.S. died from breast cancer in 2015.

Some people use statistics to figure out their chances of getting cancer. Or they use them to try to figure out their chance of being cured. Because no two people are alike, statistics can’t be used to predict what will happen to one person. These statistics describe large groups of people. They don’t take into account a person's own risk factors, such as family history, behaviors, or cancer screenings. If you have questions, talk with your healthcare provider.

What are risk factors for breast cancer in men?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. 

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer: 

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they do not necessarily cause the disease.

  • Some people with 1 or more risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, your healthcare provider may check your weight or help you lose weight.

Risk factors for breast cancer in men include:

  • Age

  • Radiation exposure, such as radiation that was used to treat another cancer in the chest area

  • Estrogen treatment

  • Diseases associated with high estrogen levels and low levels of male hormones (hyperestrogenism), such as cirrhosis or Klinefelter syndrome

  • Heavy alcohol intake

  • Obesity

  • Female relatives with breast cancer

  • A breast cancer 2 (BRCA2) gene mutation in the family

What is the most common type of breast cancer in men?

The most common type of breast cancer in men is infiltrating ductal cancer. This is cancer that starts in milk duct and spreads to nearby tissues.

Other less-common types of breast cancer in men include inflammatory carcinoma and Paget disease of the nipple. A type of breast cancer called lobular carcinoma in situ is very rare in men. This is because men don't have much lobular tissue. Lobular tissue is where breast milk is made. 

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?

The most common symptoms of breast cancer in men include: 

  • Breast lump or swelling

  • Nipple that turns inward (inversion)

  • Fluid leaking from the nipple discharge, that may be bloody

  • A pain or pulling sensation in the breast

  • Skin or nipple changes such as dimpling, puckering, redness, or scaling

Many of these symptoms may be caused by other health problems. It’s important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.

How is breast cancer similar in both men and women?

Both men and women may have breast cancer cells in the lymph nodes. The patterns of the spread of cancer are similar. The staging system for male breast cancer is the same as the staging system for female breast cancer. Breast cancer in both men and women are assessed in the same way to determine the prognosis. This includes the size of the lesion and whether or not lymph nodes have cancer cells. These factors affect the choice and outcome of treatment. Overall survival rates are similar in both men and women with breast cancer. Although male breast cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage.

Treatment for Men with Breast Cancer

The main treatment for male breast cancer is surgery. The most common surgery is a modified radical mastectomy. This means removing the breast, many of the lymph nodes under the arm, the lining over the chest muscles, and sometimes part of the chest wall muscles. 

Other treatment may include: 

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. Radiation after surgery can kill cancer cells that may not be seen during surgery. Radiation may also be done before surgery to shrink the tumor. It may be done along with chemotherapy. Or it may be used as a palliative treatment. This is a therapy that relieves symptoms, such as pain, but doesn’t treat the disease. Radiation therapy is usually external beam radiation. This is also called external beam therapy. The machine is controlled by a radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue around the treatment area. The treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes.

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer medicines to kill cancer cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of medicines work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The cancer doctor (oncologist) will recommend a treatment plan for each person.

  • Hormone therapy. In some cases, hormones can kill cancer cells, slow the growth of cancer cells, or stop cancer cells from growing. Hormone therapy as a cancer treatment involves taking substances to interfere with the activity of hormones or to stop the production of hormones. Before you begin hormone therapy, your doctor will do a hormone receptor test. This lab test is done on a small piece of the cancer tissue to see if estrogen and progesterone receptors are present. A hormone receptor test can help to predict whether cancer cells are sensitive to hormones. If so, hormone therapy may be given to help keep the hormone away from the cancer cells. 

  • Adjuvant therapy. This is radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy given after surgery. It is used to kill any cancer cells that can’t be seen. 

Talking with Your Healthcare Provider 

If you have questions about breast cancer in men, talk with your healthcare provider, who can help you understand more about this condition. 

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