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Male Breast Cancer

Male breast cancer patient wearing pink ribbon and shirt

Breast cancer is typically associated with women, but it’s possible for men to get breast cancer, too. Male breast cancer is rare and makes up less than 1% of all breast cancer cases. This malignancy can occur in men of any age, but it’s most common in older men.

Both men and women are born with a small amount of breast tissue, which includes fat, milk-producing glands (lobules) and ducts that carry milk to the nipples. Although men don’t grow more breast tissue at puberty like women do, the small amount of tissue that is present from birth allows men to develop breast cancer.

Types of male breast cancer

In both men and women, breast cancer can develop in the ducts, lobules or other breast tissues. The most common types of male breast cancer include:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma. Cancer that begins in the ducts and grows into nearby breast tissues.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer that begins in the lobules and grows into nearby breast tissues.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ. Cancer cells that begin in the lining of the ducts but have not grown into other breast tissues (“in situ” refers to potentially cancerous cells that have not spread).

Other, less common types of male breast cancer include:

  • Inflammatory breast cancer. Cancer that blocks lymphatic vessels in breast skin.
  • Breast sarcoma. Cancer that grows in the connective (stromal) tissues that support the breast’s ducts and lobules.

Signs and symptoms of male breast cancer

Symptoms of breast cancer can vary based on the specific type of cancer, but male breast cancer is usually noticed as a hard lump that can often be felt just beneath the nipple. Other symptoms may include:

  • A hard lump in an area of the breast other than the nipple
  • Nipple pain
  • An inverted nipple
  • Discharge from the nipple that may be bloody or clear
  • Dimpling, redness, scaliness, swelling or other changes to breast skin
  • Sores on or around the nipple
  • Changes to the size or shape of the breast
  • Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone

Male breast enlargement is not a sign of breast cancer in men. Known as gynecomastia, breast growth in men can result from weight gain or taking certain types of medications. The first sign of gynecomastia is often a soft lump of fatty tissue that may be tender or sore. 

Just as women can develop noncancerous (benign) breast lumps, so can men. Examples of benign male breast lumps include cysts, lipomas, hematomas, Phyllodes tumors and fat necrosis.

Male breast cancer risk factors

Breast cancer can occur in any man, but some men are more at risk than others. The following characteristics and behaviors, known as risk factors, can increase the likelihood of developing male breast cancer:

  • Getting older. The majority of breast cancers are diagnosed in men older than 50, with 72 being the average age at diagnosis.
  • Family history of breast cancer. Male breast cancer risk increases if a close family member has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Inherited gene mutations. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are inherited gene changes, or mutations. The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is about 1% for men with a BRCA1 mutation and 7% to 8% for men with a BRCA2 mutation, compared to a risk of 0.1% for men without these gene changes.
  • Previous radiation therapy. Men who have previously received radiation therapy to the chest area have an elevated breast cancer risk.
  • Treatment with hormone therapies. Hormone-based drugs that contain estrogen lead to a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Being overweight. Men who are overweight or obese have a greater chance of developing breast cancer than men who are at a healthy weight.
  • Klinefelter syndrome. This rare hereditary condition occurs when a man has an extra X chromosome, which can spike estrogen production and raise the risk of breast cancer.
  • Heavy drinking. Drinking too much alcohol can actually increase a man’s estrogen levels, along with his breast cancer risk.
  • Damage to testicles. Men with a history of testicular injuries or surgery have a greater chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Liver disease. Cirrhosis (scaring of the liver) and other conditions that cause liver damage can lower male hormone levels and elevate breast cancer risk.

How do men check for breast cancer?

It’s important for men—particularly men with multiple risk factors—to be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and to promptly report any concerns to their physician. It’s also a good idea for men to familiarize themselves with how to perform a self-breast exam and do so on a monthly basis. This exam involves:

  1. Visually inspecting breasts in front of a mirror for any noticeable changes to breast skin, size or shape.
  2. Using your fingers to gently feel for lumps or irregularities around the breasts and under the arms while standing.
  3. Laying down and repeating step No. 2 on each breast and underarm

Regular, carefully performed self-breast exams are currently the best way for men to check for signs of breast cancer. While women are advised to receive routine mammograms, which involve compressing breast tissue between two imaging plates, this widely used screening method is difficult to perform on men with little breast tissue. 

Treatment options for male breast cancer

Male breast cancer treatment options can vary based on the cancer’s type and stage, along with factors such as the patient’s age and overall health. Many breast cancer treatment plans for men include a combination of:

  • Surgery to remove tumors and surrounding tissues
  • Radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells with targeted, high-energy rays
  • Chemotherapy to attack cancer cells throughout the body using powerful drugs
  • Immunotherapies that harness the body’s immune system to fight off cancer cells
  • Targeted drug therapies to disrupt the processes that spur cancer growth
  • Hormonal therapies to combat hormone receptor-positive breast cancers

Male breast cancer prognosis and outlook

As is the case with most all malignancies, early detection of male breast cancer is key to successful treatment. The five-year relative survival rate for men with stage 0 or 1 breast cancer is 100%. For men with late-stage breast cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate dips to 19%.

It’s important to note that these figures, provided by the American Cancer Society, represent patients who were studied between 2011 and 2017. Steady improvements in diagnostics and treatment options have likely improved the outlook for current patients. In addition, relative survival rates do not consider individualized factors such as age, lifestyle and overall health.

Moffitt’s approach to male breast cancer

As a high-volume cancer center and Florida’s No. 1 cancer hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center diagnoses and treats an exceptional number of patients each year. This means the multispecialty team in our Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program has a unique level of experience addressing rare malignancies like male breast cancer, and it’s this experience that can make all the difference when it comes to achieving a positive outcome and quality of life. Our diverse team also includes genetic counselors who help patients determine their hereditary risk for male breast cancer and other diseases.

To speak with a Moffitt professional regarding genetic counseling, concerning symptoms or our male breast cancer treatment options, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. You do not need a referral to visit Moffitt, and you’ll be connected with the right specialist for your needs within 24 hours after you contact us.

References

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: Breast Cancer in Men  
Healthline: Male Breast Cancer
Breastcancer.org: Male Breast Cancer   
American Cancer Society: Breast Cancer in Men