While certain cancers such as brain tumors are viewed as equally affecting men and women alike, other cancers are seen as gender specific. For instance, prostate cancer is identified as a type of cancer that only affects men for the simple reason that women do not have prostates. Breast cancer is widely recognized as being a common type of cancer that affects women. However, what isn’t talked about as much is the fact that breast cancer affects men as well. Let’s take a closer look at the signs, symptoms, risk factors, screening, and treatment options available for male breast cancer.
Can Men Get Breast Cancer?
As mentioned above, men can most certainly develop breast cancer. But if men don’t have breasts, how can they have breast cancer?
It is true that men do not have breasts per se, but many people are surprised to find that the anatomy of the male breast is very similar to that of the female breast. The main difference is that male breasts aren’t as developed and prominent as female breasts but they still contain:
- Breast tissue
- Milk ducts
This means that technically, men have the parts necessary to produce milk. The driving force behind the ability to produce milk is the production of the hormone prolactin, which is found in very small levels in men. Even though men do not produce milk, this breast tissue can still develop breast cancer, just like any other type of cell in the body.
Related reading: Breast Cancer Myths
Common Types of Breast Cancer in Men
- Ductal Carcinoma – This is the most common type of breast cancer in men. It originates in the milk ducts.
- Lobular Carcinoma – This type of cancer begins in the milk-producing glands. It is a rare form of breast cancer in men because unlike women, men do not have many lobules.
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer – This type of cancer is characterized by cancer cells blocking the lymphatic vessels.
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men?
There are several signs and symptoms of breast cancer that men should be aware of. These include:
- Discharge from your nipple. Men do not have the ability to produce milk. For this reason, any discharge from the nipple is abnormal.
- Redness or scaling of your nipple
- Changes in the nipple’s position, such as it becoming inverted
- Changes to the skin over your breasts, such as redness, dimples, and scaling
- Lumps in the breast
- Crusting of the nipple
- Lump in the armpit
- Swollen breast
It is not likely that men will experience every single symptom. Different types of breast cancer present in different ways. It is best to contact your doctor if there are any changes in the nipple or chest area. The earlier breast cancer is caught, the better the treatment outcomes.
What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer in Men?
There is not a definitive cause of breast cancer in men, which makes it impossible to prevent. However, there are several risk factors that put men at a higher risk of developing breast cancer:
- Age – According to the American Cancer Society, 72 is the average age of men who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Family history – If you have a family history of breast cancer, you are at higher risk of developing it yourself.
- Estrogen-containing medications – You are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer if you have taken drugs containing estrogen to treat illnesses such as prostate cancer.
- Klinefelter’s syndrome – This disease causes men to produce higher levels of estrogen, which increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Obesity – Men who are obese have increased levels of estrogen which, increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Surgery – Surgery involving testicles, puts you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Any condition that causes a decrease in male hormones and an increase in female hormones increases your risk of developing breast cancer.
Screening for Male Breast Cancer
Men typically are not routinely screened for breast cancer like women are. However, it is recommended that men who are considered to be at a higher risk of breast cancer undergo routine screening. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, high-risk men should have an annual clinical breast exam every year and self- breast exams beginning at the age of 35.
If a suspicious lump is found, further testing such as mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, and blood chemistry profiles can be used to determine whether or not you have breast cancer. Your healthcare provider can review your medical history to determine whether or not you are at a higher risk of developing male breast cancer.
Does Treatment for Breast Cancer in Men Differ from Women?
Breast cancer in men is treated very similar to breast cancer in women who are in menopause. The recommended treatment plan is based on the stage of breast cancer. There are 5 main types of treatments used to treat male breast cancer. These include:
- Chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill cancer cells and prevent them from dividing and spreading
- Hormone therapy – blocks the action of hormones, which stops the cancer cells from dividing
- Radiation therapy – uses x-rays to kill cancer cells and prevent their growth
- Targeted therapy – the use of drugs to target and kill cancer cells without damaging normal cells
- Surgery – removal of the affected areas, breast tissue, or both
Every case is different. Your breast cancer specialist will evaluate the type and stage of cancer to create a treatment plan that may include several of these treatments.
Being Proactive about Breast Cancer Screening is the Key
Experts agree that the earlier cancer is detected the higher the survival rate. Paying attention to your body, understanding the warning signs, and contacting your health care provider about any concerns you might have are the keys to catching male breast cancer in the earliest stage possible. Our Phoenix area breast cancer specialists can assist you in getting the breast cancer screening that you need. Contact the location nearest to you for more information.
Originally posted November 2019. Updated October 2020.