Male Breast Cancer

What is Male Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is an irregular growth of tissue on the chest wall behind the nipples. If this cancer is not treated, it can spread to other places in the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver, brain, etc. Although it is extremely rare, breast cancer can actually occur in males. Men have a small amount of breast tissue, although unlike females, this tissue does not produce milk. If a man were to develop breast cancer, it would most likely occur in his sixties or seventies; it is extremely rare for a young man to develop this kind of cancer.

But even though this cancer is uncommon, there are some risk factors to look out for. For example, if a man has a family history of breast cancer””even from a female relative””he too could be at risk. If a man has previously had cancer or been treated with radiation therapy, he has a higher risk of breast cancer. Testicular injuries or illnesses can cause the cancer to develop.

Lastly, some genetic mutations can increase the likelihood of cancer. For example, Klinefelter’s syndrome can occur when an extra X chromosome is added at conception to a man’s usual “XY” sex-determining chromosomes. This genetic condition can change the normal ratios of estrogen to testosterone; and, higher estrogen levels can increase the risk of breast cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Male Breast Cancer?

The signs of breast cancer present themselves similarly to those in females. However, because men don’t have as much breast tissue, these symptoms can be difficult to spot or are ignored until the cancer has metastasized. While not all lumps are malignant, finding a lump on the chest can be sign of cancer. Any changes to the skin or nipple should be examined; changes can include redness, scaling, dimpling, discharge, or puckering.

Male Breast Cancer Causes

The causes and origins of male breast cancer are as unclear as the disease is rare. Because incidences of male breast cancer are so few, doctors are aware of male breast cancer but have had little opportunity to actually study the disease. What is known is that like breast cancer in women, male breast cancer is likely caused by cells in the breast behaving oddly and developing at a rapid rate. This development is often the result of radiation directed at the breast or body in general, the excessive consumption of alcohol, or a product of aging. Because both men and women are born with a certain amount of breast tissue, it is technically possible for tumors to grow in this region of the body.

Types of breast cancer in men:

  • Ductal carcinoma (Cancer in the milk ducts) accounting for most male breast cancer.
  • Lobular carcinoma (Cancer in milk-producing glands). A rare cancer in men.
  • Paget’s disease of the nipple (cancer in the nipple). A rarely seen form of male breast cancer found in milk ducts that spread to the nipple.

How is Male Breast Cancer Treated?

Breast cancer in men can be treated with estrogen-modulator medications, like tamoxifen. If one hormone therapy doesn’t work, there are many others that can be tried since males tend to respond better to that kind of treatment than females. Male breast cancer can also be treated similarly to females, however, with treatments like mastectomies radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Male Breast Cancer Prevention

On occasion, men will inherit mutated genes from one or both of their parents, putting them at risk of contracting breast cancer. These mutated genes are not an effective protection from cancer. Seeking a genetic counselor, as well as undergoing genetic testing, will help to determine if a man carries the mutations associated with breast cancer and if they could pass them to their children.

Lifestyle factors to avoid:

  • Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of male breast cancer.
  • Failing to regularly exercise increases the risk of contracting male breast cancer as exercise lowers hormone levels, changes the metabolism, and also boosts the immune system.
  • Those who habitually drink two or more alcoholic beverages a day are an increased risk of developing male breast cancer.
Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
January 25, 2018