What is male breast cancer?

Breast cancer is more often associated with women, but men are also at risk. Men can get breast cancer because, like women, they’re born with some breast tissue. In men, breast cancer is rare and often not diagnosed until it has become more serious.

Most male breast cancers begin in the milk ducts, known as ductal carcinoma. Two other types of male breast cancer that are even rarer are lobular carcinoma, which begins in the milk-producing glands, and Paget's disease, which spreads to the nipple.

Breast Cancer Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC)

Causes of male breast cancer

Doctors do not know what causes male breast cancer.

Risk factors for male breast cancer

Characteristics that increase the risk of breast cancer in men include:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Being exposed to chest radiation
  • Cirrhosis or other liver disease
  • Inheriting certain abnormal genes from your parents
  • Having a close family member who has had breast cancer
  • Being born with more than one copy of the X chromosome
  • Inflamed testicles or having a testicle surgically removed
  • Taking estrogen-related drugs (for example, to treat prostate cancer or for sex-change surgery)

Symptoms of male breast cancer

Signs of male breast cancer can include:

  • A lump or bump in breast tissue
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • Redness or other changes to the nipple
  • Puckering, dimpling, redness or other changes to the skin over the breast area

Diagnosis of male breast cancer

Doctors may use several procedures to find breast cancer in men. These include:

  • Biopsy — a thin needle is used to remove a sample of the breast tissue. The tissue is examined for cancerous cells.
  • Ultrasound — a wand is moved over your skin to create an image of the breast tissue. This test can show characteristics that a breast lump is benign or cancerous.
  • Mammogram — this test is not usually performed on men, but can be used if cancer is suspected.
  • Physical examination

Treatments for male breast cancer

Doctors can cure breast cancer if they find it early on. Early detection is more common for women, in part because men don’t always contact their doctor right away if they notice symptoms that might be signs of this type of cancer.

Treatment options can include:

  • Surgery — doctor removes the cancerous breast tissue and enough surrounding tissue to indicate a clear margin; lymph nodes under the arm may all be removed, or just a few for testing to see if the cancer has spread.
  • Medication — most male breast cancers are sensitive to hormones in the body; in these cases, medication may be an option.
  • Radiation therapy — radiation therapy uses high-powered rays like x-rays to destroy cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy — chemotherapy drugs are given orally or intravenously, typically requires a number of doses that normally take weeks or months to complete.

The patient may undergo radiation therapy or chemo after surgery. Follow up treatment requires the patient to see the doctor every few months. Scans and tests may be required to ensure the cancer remains in remission.

Find a breast cancer specialist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you