Breast cancer in men: Rare, but possible

Posted at 5:25 AM, Apr 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-09 06:25:36-04

Breast cancer is the second-most diagnosed cancer in women, but it is the least-diagnosed cancer in men.

Of all the breast cancer cases known, only about 1% impact men.

It’s not talked about often, but it is a fact of life. Men can get breast cancer.

Breast cancer is often thought of as something that only affects women, but, in rare cases, men can get it too. An estimated 2,600 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. In comparison, 250,000 women are diagnosed annually.

"Because of its rarity, unfortunately, it is diagnosed late. Most men may have a lump in their breast, and they think only women can get breast cancer. So, unfortunately, when it is diagnosed, often times it is at a later stage disease," said radiation oncology specialist  Dr. Gerard Voorhees. 

Dr. Gerard Voorheeswith the Corpus Christi Medical Center Radiation  Oncology says the condition usually occurs in men over 60, but can very occasionally affect younger men.

"Diagnosis of male breast cancer is very similar to that of a woman. They have to undergo mammography, radiographic studies, and a biopsy of the lesion and then get together as a multidisciplinary team – the surgeon, radiation oncologist, and medical oncologist to formulate the best treatment plan," said Dr. Voorhees. 

The causes of breast cancer are unclear, but a number of factors, like obesity and family history, can increase the likelihood of developing it.

"Some of the symptoms, if you are a man and feel a painless lump in the breast, if there isthickening in the skin overlying the lump, change in the skin, like dimpling in the skin, it can almost appear like an orange peel. If you notice redness, irritation, or the nipple becomes inverted, also if there is nipple discharge," said Dr. Voorhees. 

Signs and symptoms of male breast cancer can include:
· A painless lump or thickening in your breast tissue
· Changes to the skin covering your breast, such as dimpling, puckering, redness or scaling
· Changes to your nipple, such as redness or scaling, or a nipple that begins to turn inward
· Discharge from your nipple


  • It’s not clear what causes male breast cancer.
  • Doctors know that male breast cancer occurs when some breast cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do. The accumulating cells form a tumor that may spread (metastasize) to nearby tissue, to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.

Where breast cancer begins in men 
Everyone is born with a small amount of breast tissue. Breast tissue consists of milk-producing glands (lobules), ducts that carry milk to the nipples, and fat.
During puberty, women begin developing more breast tissue, and men do not. But because men are born with a small amount of breast tissue, they can develop breast cancer.
Risk factors:

Factors that increase the risk of male breast cancer include:

  • Older age. Your risk of male breast cancer increases as you age. The peak incidence of male breast cancer occurs between the ages of 68 and 71.
  • Exposure to estrogen.
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome. This genetic syndrome occurs when a boy is born with more than one copy of the X chromosome
  • Liver disease.
  • Obesity.
  • Radiation exposure
  • Testicle disease or surgery.

Your doctor may conduct a number of diagnostic tests and procedures, such as:

  • Clinical breast exam
  • Imaging tests
  • Biopsy


To determine your male breast cancer treatment options, your doctor considers your cancer’s stage, your overall health and your preferences. Male breast cancer treatment often involves surgery and may also include other treatments.


The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor and surrounding breast tissue. The procedures include:

Radiation therapy

  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. In male breast cancer, radiation therapy may be used after surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells in the breast, chest muscles or armpit. 
  • During radiation therapy, radiation comes from a large machine that moves around your body, directing the energy beams to precise points on your chest. 


  • Chemotherapy uses medications to kill cancer cells. Your doctor might recommend chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might have spread outside your breast. Chemotherapy may also be an option for men with advanced breast cancer.

Hormone therapy

  • Hormone therapy for male breast cancer often involves the medication tamoxifen, which is also used for women. Other hormone therapy medications used in women with breast cancer haven’t been shown to be effective for men.

See a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms. Early detection is important, and it can save your life.