Breast cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the breast tissue. Although male breasts do not fully develop, they do contain most of the same basic breast structures as women. Male breasts include small glands called lobules, ducts, and the nipple. These structures are also surrounded by fatty tissue. All of these structures are susceptible to developing breast cancer.
Breast cancer in men is rare, accounting for about 1% of all breast cancer. Unfortunately, awareness of it is also rare. Because of this, the cancer is often diagnosed in advanced stages. Like all other cancers, early diagnosis and treatment are important for the most favorable outcome.
Types of breast cancer found in men are:
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues including the lymph nodes. Cancer that has invaded the lymph nodes can then spread to other parts of the body. The lymph nodes associated with breast cancer are in the armpit, above the collarbone, and in the chest.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Factors that may increase your risk of developing breast cancer include:
When breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all. As the cancer grows, it can cause the following changes:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This includes a thorough manual breast exam and blood tests.
In most cases, diagnosis can be confirmed with a biopsy. A sample of the suspicious tissue will be removed and sent to a lab to look for cancer cells.
Types of biopsies include:
Imaging tests can help with diagnosis and determine the extent of cancer. These may include:
If cancer is present, your doctor may order other tests to learn more about the type of cancer. These may include:
The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, breast cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer.
A combination of therapies is most effective. For example, radiation may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after to make sure all the cancer has been removed.
Treatment options include:
The goal of surgery is to remove the tumors and any affected tissue.
Surgical procedures include:
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink remaining tumors.
Radiation therapy can be:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream. They travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well.
The following therapies may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy:
There are no current guidelines to screen for breast cancer in men. Finding breast cancer early and treating it promptly is the best way to prevent death. Since breast cancer does not cause symptoms in the early stages, be aware of any changes in your body and talk to your doctor about them.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Bradley KL, Tyldesley S, et al. Contemporary systemic therapy for male breast cancer. Clin Breast Cancer. 2013 Oct 1;[Epub ahead of print].
Breast cancer in men. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003091-pdf.pdf. Accessed January 7, 2014.
Breast cancer in men. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 1, 2012. Accessed January 7, 2014.
Hotko YS. Male breast cancer: Clinical presentation, diagnosis, treatment. Exp Oncol. 2013;35(4):303-310.
Male breast cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/malebreast/Patient. Updated September 18, 2013. Accessed January 7, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.