Male Breast Cancer

Both women and men have breast tissue. Both women and men can develop breast cancer. However, male breast cancer is far less common and accounts for one per cent of all breast cancer. It usually affects men 60 years of age or older, although is not unknown in younger men.

Essential Information

  • A family history of breast cancer is the most common risk factor for breast cancer in men.
  • Enlargement of the breast in men, a condition called gynecomastia, and obesity in general increase a man’s risk, possibly because fatty tissue makes estrogen.
  • How early the cancer is detected and whether cancer has spread to the underarm lymph nodes, largely determines the outcome for male breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer in men is treated in a similar way to breast cancer in women who have reached menopause and are no longer producing estrogen.

Men get the same kinds of breast cancer as women. However, the most common kind of breast cancer in men is in the breast ducts. This is because breast tissue in men consists almost exclusively of ducts.

  • Klinefelter's syndrome (a rare disorder with an extra X chromosome in all body cells) makes a man 20 times more likely to develop breast cancer. It is believed that the increased risk of breast cancer in men with Klinefelter's syndrome may be caused when the male hormones used to treat it are converted to estrogens in male fat tissue.
  • A family history of breast cancer is the most common risk factor. Men who carry altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 cancer-susceptible genes can pass on the predisposition for breast cancer to their daughters and sons. Men with hereditary breast cancer may be at a higher risk for prostate cancer and possibly colon cancer.
  • Gynecomastia, or an enlargement of the breast in men, carries an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Obesity may increase the risk of developing breast cancer because of an increase in estrogen production in fatty tissue.
  • Estrogens used to treat some medical disorders may increase a man's risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Testicular dysfunction such as undescended testes, congenital groin hernias, testicular injuries, inflammation of the testes and testicular infections can increase the risk of male breast cancer.
  • Chronic liver disease may increase the risk of breast cancer because the body's ability to break down estrogens is reduced, raising the level of female hormones in the body.
  • More studies are needed to conclusively evaluate the relationship between estrogen and male breast cancer.

The most common symptoms are a small, painless lump close to the nipple of the breast or a small liquid discharge from the nipple.

Because most men have less fat tissue than women in the breast area, male breast cancers are quite easily detected. However, most men don't ‘think breast cancer’ and therefore don't look for changes or lumps or may ignore a lump until the cancer has become quite advanced.

Male breast cancer is diagnosed the same way as it is in women. A needle is inserted into the lump to remove a small piece of tissue for testing or the oncologist may decide to remove the lump surgically. When the cancer is surgically removed, underarm lymph nodes are also removed to test for malignancy (cancer).


Treatment for men involves removing the tumour through surgery. The surgeon may remove only the lump (lumpectomy) or the whole breast (mastectomy) plus some of the underarm lymph nodes if necessary.


Radiation is given after a lumpectomy. Surgery tends to be more extensive in men than women because it is usually diagnosed at a later stage of the disease and because of the smaller size of male breasts. Radiation is needed less for men than it is for woman as lumpectomy surgery is done less frequently due to less breast tissue.

Chemotherapy and hormone therapy

Systemic (total body) chemotherapy is usually recommended for men at risk of recurrence after radiation or surgery.

The oncologist may also recommend hormone therapies such as tamoxifen that block the action of hormones on the breast-cancer tissue. For the same reason, a doctor may recommend removing the testes or adrenal glands to reduce hormones in the body such as testosterone and other male hormones (androgens) that encourage breast cancer growth.

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