Male breast cancer

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at May 22, 2016
StartDiseasesMale breast cancer

According to the National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute, male breast cancer is rare, making up less than 1% of breast cancer cases. Men of all ages can get the disease but it’s typically males between the ages of 60 and 70 years old that get diagnosed with it. A number of factors affect a prognosis including the age and overall health of the man, the type of breast cancer he has, and whether it was found in both breasts.


Definition & Facts

Male breast cancer occurs in one or both breasts and poses a serious threat if not addressed immediately. The success of recovering from the disease depends largely on the prognosis. Men may have one of four different types of breast cancer. They are:

The male breast consists of the nipple, areola, ducts, and fatty tissue. Lymph nodes, ribs, and muscles are near the breast. Men do not get lobular carcinoma in situ which affects the lobules which produce milk; only women are diagnosed with this form of breast cancer. Genetic factors ultimately play a role in some cases where a mutated gene is passed down to a man from his parents.

Symptoms & Complaints

The symptoms and complaints associated with the disease vary. They can include:

People should visit their doctors about their symptoms and complaints right away if they are persistent. Early detection increases the chance of surviving certain forms of breast cancer and preventing them from spreading.


There are a number of different factors that increase the risk of male breast cancer. They include:

Mutated genes passed down by parents is the most common cause of breast cancer in men. Age plays a factor as most patients diagnosed with the disease don’t learn about it until they are in their sixties or seventies. Obesity increases the amount of fatty tissue in the breasts thereby giving cancer a place to spread. Liver disease causes the amount of estrogen in the body to increase, which makes the breast tissue grow.

Diagnosis & Tests

In order to diagnose breast cancer, a series of tests and procedures are required. A physical examination will be performed and a complete medical history will be taken. A doctor will ask about the patient’s lifestyle, family history, and history of illness. The patient should ask questions while being examined in order to better understand the procedures and tests that he is going through. Other exams and procedures that are commonly used to detect the disease include:

  • A clinical breast exam (CBE). The areas around the breast and under the arms are examined by a healthcare professional to determine if there are any lumps or abnormalities.
  • An ultrasound. A sonogram is created by bouncing sound waves off the internal tissues and organs. The image is then evaluated by a doctor at a later date to determine if the symptoms experienced is male breast cancer.
  • An MRI. This procedure uses a computer, magnetic fields, and radio waves to create detailed pictures of the body.
  • Blood tests. Because male breast cancer may cause the increase or decrease of substances released in the blood by the internal organs and tissues in the body, doctors may order a blood sample as part of testing for male breast cancer.
  • Biopsy. When tissue is thought to be cancerous, it is removed from the body for examination. There are three different ways this may be done. The first is using a very thin needle which is called a fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. The second is the removal of tissue using a wide needle which is known as a core needle biopsy. The third is an excisional biopsy which is the removal of entire lumps of tissue. The doctor will determine which tests are appropriate for the patient.

Treatment & Therapy

Male breast cancer is treated in several steps depending on the type of cancer found and its stage - that is how much it has spread. The most common form of treatment for early stage cancers is mastectomy though lumpectomy may be performed. The nipple typically needs to be removed during mastectomies. Radiation therapy is typically used to treat male breast cancer across all stages, particularly after surgery as an adjuvant therapy.

Chemotherapy and hormone therapy may be administered in stage one as an adjuvant therapy. Later stage cancers may be treated with chemotherapy prior to surgery. When breast cancer has spread outside the breast and lymph nodes, a systemic approach including targeted therapy and/or a combination of therapies and treatment options is usually applied.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Preventing male breast cancer involves men having regular cancer screenings once they've reached their sixties or seventies or have risk factors specific to male breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising frequently, and limiting the amount of alcohol one consumes all may lower the risk of male breast cancer.