Male breast cancer is a rare cancer that forms in the breast tissue of men. Though breast cancer is most commonly thought of as a disease that affects women, breast cancer does occur in men.
Male breast cancer is most common in older men, though it can occur at any age.
Men diagnosed with male breast cancer at an early stage have a good chance for a cure. Treatment typically involves surgery to remove the breast tissue. Other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, may be recommended based on your particular situation.
Signs and symptoms of male breast cancer can include:
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.
It's not clear what causes male breast cancer.
Doctors know that male breast cancer occurs when some breast cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do. The accumulating cells form a tumor that may spread (metastasize) to nearby tissue, to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.
Everyone is born with a small amount of breast tissue. Breast tissue consists of milk-producing glands (lobules), ducts that carry milk to the nipples, and fat.
During puberty, women begin developing more breast tissue, and men do not. But because men are born with a small amount of breast tissue, they can develop breast cancer.
Types of breast cancer diagnosed in men include:
Some men inherit abnormal (mutated) genes from their parents that increase the risk of breast cancer. Mutations in one of several genes, especially a gene called BRCA2, put you at greater risk of developing breast and prostate cancers.
If you have a strong family history of cancer, discuss this with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend that you meet with a genetic counselor in order to consider genetic testing to see if you carry genes that increase your risk of cancer.
Factors that increase the risk of male breast cancer include:
Your doctor may conduct a number of diagnostic tests and procedures, such as:
Removing a sample of breast cells for testing (biopsy). A biopsy is the only definitive way to make a diagnosis of breast cancer. During a biopsy, your doctor uses a specialized needle device guided by X-ray or another imaging test to extract a core of tissue from the suspicious area.
Biopsy samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis where experts determine whether the cells are cancerous. A biopsy sample is also analyzed to determine the type of cells involved in the breast cancer, the aggressiveness (grade) of the cancer, and whether the cancer cells have hormone receptors or other receptors that may influence your treatment options.
Other tests and procedures may be recommended depending on your particular situation.
Once your doctor has diagnosed your breast cancer, he or she works to establish the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your cancer's stage helps determine your prognosis and the best treatment options.
Tests and procedures used to stage breast cancer may include:
Breast cancer stages range from 0 to IV with 0 indicating cancer that is noninvasive or contained within the milk ducts. Stage IV breast cancer, also called metastatic breast cancer, indicates cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.
Breast cancer staging also takes into account your cancer's grade; the presence of tumor markers, such as receptors for estrogen, progesterone and HER2; and proliferation factors.
To determine your treatment options, your doctor considers your cancer's stage, your overall health and your preferences. Male breast cancer treatment often involves surgery and may also include other treatments.
The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor and surrounding breast tissue. The procedures include:
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. In male breast cancer, radiation therapy may be used after surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells in the breast, chest muscles or armpit.
During radiation therapy, radiation comes from a large machine that moves around your body, directing the energy beams to precise points on your chest.
Most men with male breast cancer have tumors that rely on hormones to grow (hormone-sensitive). If your cancer is hormone-sensitive, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy for male breast cancer often involves the medication tamoxifen. Other hormone therapy medications that are used in women with breast cancer haven't been shown to be effective for men.
Chemotherapy uses medications to kill cancer cells. These medications may be administered through a vein in your arm (intravenously), in pill form or by both methods.
Your doctor might recommend chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might have spread outside your breast. Chemotherapy may also be an option for men with advanced breast cancer.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be shocking and upsetting. With time you'll find ways to cope with the stress and challenges of cancer and cancer treatment. Until then, you might find it helpful to consider:
Start by seeing your family doctor if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms that worry you. If your doctor thinks you may have breast cancer, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating cancer (oncologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well-prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready and what to expect from your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out.
For male breast cancer, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions that occur to you during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may make time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked:
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