Male Breast Cancer

It’s Not Just a Female Disease

Even though men don’t have pronounced 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.

Which Men Are More Likely to Get Breast Cancer?

It is rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer. The chance of a man getting breast cancer goes up with age. Most breast cancers happen to men between ages 60 and 70. Other risk factors of 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 mumps orchitis, a testicular injury or an undescended testicle

How Serious Is Breast Cancer in Men?

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 often is diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. This may be because men are less likely to be suspicious of something strange in that area. Also, their small amount of breast tissue is harder to feel, making it harder to catch these cancers early. It also means tumors can spread more quickly to surrounding tissues.

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men?

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 already have spread.

Men need to know that breast cancer is not limited to only women. Possible symptoms of breast cancer to watch for include:
  • A lump or swelling, which is usually (but not always) painless
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
  • Discharge from the nipple

Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt.

These changes aren’t always caused by cancer. For example, most breast lumps in men are caused by gynecomastia (a harmless enlargement of breast tissue). Still, if you notice any breast changes, you should see a health care professional as soon as possible.

(Source: American Cancer Society)