How Are Men Affected by Breast Cancer?

While the majority of breast cancers occur in women, breast cancer can develop in men. In 2018, an estimated 2,550 men were predicted to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Though less than 1% of all breast cancer cases occur in men, breast cancer in men is more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage. This may be due in part to awareness of male breast cancer being lower, and men who do find a lump may delay in seeking diagnosis.1,2

Survival for men with breast cancer is similar to women with breast cancer and is based on the stage of the disease. However, men have a higher mortality rate from breast cancer than women as it is often diagnosed at later stages of the disease in men.2,3 In 2018, an estimated 480 men were predicted to die from breast cancer.1

Risk factors of breast cancer in men

Risk factors are identified characteristics that can potentially increase a person’s likelihood of developing a disease. However, risk factors do not necessarily cause breast cancer. Men are more likely to develop breast cancer if they have2,4:

  • A family history of breast cancer, especially those with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
  • Previous radiation therapy to the chest
  • Obesity
  • High levels of the hormone estrogen
  • Klinefelter syndrome (a rare genetic syndrome)
  • Excess breast tissue (gynecomastia)

Symptoms of breast cancer in men

Like breast cancer in women, breast cancer in men often presents with a lump in the breast tissue. Other symptoms may include a change in the skin of the breast (like redness, scaly skin, or puckering) or discharge from the nipple. Any changes like these should be discussed with a doctor.2,5

Types of breast cancer in men

Most breast cancers in men are invasive ductal carcinomas, cancers that develop from the ducts. Another condition that may occur in men is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), sometimes referred to as pre-invasive cancer. In DCIS, the abnormal cells have not spread beyond the duct. However, if they are not treated, they can develop into invasive ductal carcinoma.2,3

Other rare forms of breast cancer that may occur in men are Paget disease of the nipple (develops in the ducts and spreads to the nipple and areola) or inflammatory breast cancer (a rare type of breast cancer that causes the breast to become red, warm, and swollen).2,3

Tests used to diagnose breast cancer in men

Several tests may be used to reach a diagnosis of breast cancer in men, including3,6:

  • Clinical breast exam – an exam where the doctor feels the breast tissue and under the arm
  • Mammogram – an x-ray taken of breast tissue while the breast is compressed between two plates
  • Ultrasound – a screening that uses sound waves and can be helpful in distinguishing between fluid-filled cysts or solid lumps
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a scan that uses magnets and radio waves to create pictures of internal structures in the body
  • Nipple discharge test – a test where any fluid that is coming from the nipple is examined under a microscope
  • Biopsy – a procedure in which cells or the tumor is removed from the body to be examined under a microscope

Treatment of breast cancer in men

Like breast cancer in women, treatment options for breast cancer in men may include3:

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: December 2018.
View References
  1. Cancer statistics center, breast. American Cancer Society. Available at https://cancerstatisticscenter.cancer.org/#!/cancer-site/Breast. Accessed 7/25/18.
  2. Male breast cancer. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Available at http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/male-breast-cancer. Accessed 7/25/18.
  3. Male breast cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/male-breast-treatment-pdq. Accessed 7/25/18.
  4. NIH study confirms risk factors for male breast cancer. National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/BreastCancerMalePoolingStudy. Accessed 7/25/18.
  5. Breast cancer in men: signs & symptoms. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Available at https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/breast-cancer-men/symptoms-and-signs. Accessed 7/25/18.
  6. Tests for breast cancer in men. American Cancer Society. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer-in-men/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html. Accessed 7/25/18.