Male Breast Cancer: What to Know About Breast Health in Men

Breast can­cer doesn’t just impact women – it can devel­op in men, too. Learn about male breast can­cer and how to pri­or­i­tize your breast health.

Breast can­cer is often thought of as only affect­ing women. But every­one – includ­ing men – has breast tis­sue. While less com­mon, male breast can­cer can occur, and because it’s not talked about as much, men may not be aware of the signs. 

While breast can­cer in men shares some sim­i­lar­i­ties with women, there are dif­fer­ences to be aware of. Here’s what you should know about male breast can­cer, includ­ing its symp­toms, diag­no­sis, and treatment. 

Is Male Breast Can­cer the Same as Female Breast Cancer? 

Breast tis­sue – which is made up of fat, milk ducts that car­ry milk to the nip­ples, and milk-pro­duc­ing glands – is some­thing that every­one is born with. 

When puber­ty hits, the breast tis­sue in peo­ple assigned female at birth grows. In peo­ple assigned male at birth, the small amount of breast tis­sue they have remains the same. How­ev­er, because every­one has breast tis­sue, any­one can devel­op can­cer in this part of the body. 

Still, male breast can­cer dif­fers from female breast can­cer in a few ways. To begin, it’s usu­al­ly diag­nosed at a lat­er stage and is more advanced, due to con­di­tions such as a big­ger tumor size, the can­cer spread­ing to anoth­er part of the body, or the involve­ment of the lymph nodes (a part of the immune system). 

Men are also more like­ly to devel­op two spe­cif­ic kinds of breast can­cer: inva­sive duc­tal car­ci­no­ma and duc­tal car­ci­no­ma in situ. Inva­sive duc­tal car­ci­no­ma is the most preva­lent type of breast can­cer in both men and women. It begins in the milk ducts (under­de­vel­oped in men) and moves to the rest of the breast tis­sue. Duc­tal car­ci­no­ma in situ is an ear­ly form of breast can­cer in which the abnor­mal cells haven’t moved out of the milk ducts yet. Men can also devel­op lob­u­lar car­ci­no­ma, which begins in the glands that pro­duce milk. 

Oth­er types of breast can­cer, includ­ing triple-neg­a­tive breast can­cer, are less com­mon in men. 

What Increas­es My Risk of Male Breast Cancer? 

The exact cause of male breast can­cer is unknown. How­ev­er, as with female breast can­cer, cer­tain fac­tors increase your risk of devel­op­ing male breast can­cer, such as: 

  • Get­ting older 
  • A fam­i­ly his­to­ry of breast cancer 
  • Genet­ic muta­tions, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes 
  • Obe­si­ty

Oth­er breast can­cer risk fac­tors are spe­cif­ic to men, such as: 

  • Hor­mone ther­a­py for prostate cancer 
  • Kline­fel­ter syn­drome, which is when males are born with more than one copy of the X chro­mo­some and hor­mones are affected 
  • Tes­ti­cle surgery or dis­ease, such as orchi­tis (inflam­ma­tion of one or both testicles) 
  • Liv­er dis­ease, which can increase estro­gen lev­els in men 

How Do I Know if I Have Male Breast Cancer? 

Many women are aware of the signs of breast can­cer and engage in reg­u­lar screen­ings, like self-exams, clin­i­cal exams, and mam­mo­grams.

How­ev­er, because male breast can­cer is less com­mon, some men may not be aware of the signs. This can lead to a lat­er diag­no­sis, mak­ing the can­cer more dif­fi­cult to treat. 

Men who have breast can­cer typ­i­cal­ly have lumps that they can feel. Oth­er signs of male breast can­cer include: 

  • Swelling in the breast 
  • Flak­ing or red­ness of the breast skin 
  • Nip­ple dis­charge, bleed­ing, or pain 
  • Changes in nip­ple col­or or a turn­ing inward of the nipple 
  • Dim­pling of the breast skin, which can look like the skin of an orange 

If you’re expe­ri­enc­ing any of these symp­toms or oth­er con­cern­ing changes in your breasts or chest area, talk to a health­care provider as soon as possible. 

Do you have symp­toms that may be relat­ed to male breast can­cer? Make an appoint­ment with the Duly Health and Care High-Risk Breast Clin­ic.

How Is Male Breast Can­cer Diag­nosed and Treated? 

Diag­nos­ing male breast can­cer involves tests to exam­ine the breast tis­sue. Health­care providers will usu­al­ly begin with a clin­i­cal breast exam. If need­ed, they will order fol­low-up tests, such as imag­ing tests (X‑ray, MRI, or ultra­sound) or a biop­sy (tak­ing a small sam­ple of breast cells for test­ing in a lab). 

Treat­ment for male breast can­cer is sim­i­lar to treat­ment for female breast can­cer in that it depends on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread, if at all. Male breast can­cer is usu­al­ly first treat­ed with surgery, which removes some of the breast tis­sue (lumpec­to­my) or all the breast tis­sue (mas­tec­to­my).

Oth­er treat­ment options include: 

  • Radi­a­tion ther­a­py, which uses beams of ener­gy to destroy can­cer cells 
  • Chemother­a­py, which is med­ica­tion to kill can­cer cells 
  • Hor­mone ther­a­py, which is med­ica­tion that stops the growth of can­cer that relies on hor­mones for growth 
  • Tar­get­ed ther­a­py, which is med­ica­tion that tar­gets cer­tain chem­i­cals in can­cer cells, caus­ing those cells to die 

Long-Term Breast Health for Men and Women 

Every­one has breast tis­sue, so that means every­one should take steps to reduce their risk of breast can­cer or iden­ti­fy it ear­ly when it’s eas­i­er to treat. 

For most men, this starts with fam­i­ly his­to­ry. If mul­ti­ple fam­i­ly mem­bers have had breast or ovar­i­an can­cer or some­one in your fam­i­ly has a con­firmed BRCA1 or BRCA2 muta­tion, you may ben­e­fit from genet­ic screening. 

If you’re a trans­gen­der man and you haven’t gone through gen­der-affirm­ing surgery on your chest, fol­low breast can­cer screen­ing guide­lines for those assigned female at birth. If you have had gen­der-affirm­ing surgery, breast can­cer is less like­ly – but still possible. 

No mat­ter your sit­u­a­tion, it’s impor­tant to remain famil­iar with the look and feel of your chest to detect changes and report them to a health­care provider. By pri­or­i­tiz­ing your breast health and stay­ing in close con­tact with your provider, you can reduce your chances of devel­op­ing any kind of breast cancer. 

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