Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Breast cancer in men

Statistics regarding men and breast cancer

Breast cancer in men is rare — less than 1 percent of all breast carcinomas occur in men. Consider these statistics available from the American Cancer Society:

  • Breast cancer is about 100 times more common among women.
  • The average age at diagnosis is between 60 and 70, although men of all ages can be affected with the disease.

What are risk factors for breast cancer in men?

Risk factors may include:

  • Radiation exposure.
  • Estrogen administration. 
  • Diseases associated with hyperestrogenism, such as cirrhosis or Klinefelter’s syndrome.

Also, there are definite familial tendencies for developing breast cancer:

  • An increased incidence is seen in men who have a number of female relatives with breast cancer.
  • An increased risk of male breast cancer has been reported in families in which a BRCA2 (Breast Cancer 2) gene mutation has been identified.

What is the most common type of breast cancer in men?

Infiltrating ductal cancer is the most common tumor type, but intraductal cancer, inflammatory carcinoma and Paget’s disease of the nipple have been described as well.

Lobular carcinoma in situ has not been identified in men.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?

The following are the most common symptoms of breast cancer in men. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Breast lumps.
  • Nipple inversion. 
  • Nipple discharge (sometimes bloody). 
  • A pain or pulling sensation in the breast.

The symptoms of breast cancer may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

What are the similarities to breast cancer in women?

Lymph node involvement and the hematogenous pattern of spread are similar to those found in female breast cancer. The staging system for male breast cancer is identical to the staging system for female breast cancer.

Prognostic factors that have been evaluated include the size of lesion and the presence or absence of lymph node involvement, both of which correlate well with prognosis.

Overall survival is similar to that of women with breast cancer. The impression that male breast cancer has a worse prognosis may stem from the tendency toward diagnosis at a later stage.

Treatment for men with breast cancer

Specific treatment for male breast cancer will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease. 
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies. 
  • Expectations for the course of the disease. 
  • Your opinion or preference.

The primary treatment is a mastectomy.

Other treatment may include:

  • Radiation therapy
    Radiation therapy is a process that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. Radiation done after surgery can kill cancer cells that may not be seen during surgery. Radiation also may be done:
    • Prior to surgery to shrink the tumor.
    • In combination with chemotherapy. 
    • As a palliative treatment (therapy that relieves symptoms, such as pain, but does not alter the course of the disease).

      Radiation therapy is usually delivered by external beam radiation. External radiation (also called external beam therapy) is a treatment that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes. 
  • Chemotherapy
    Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual.
  • Hormone therapy
    In some cases, hormones can kill cancer cells, slow the growth of cancer cells, or stop cancer cells from growing. Hormone therapy as a cancer treatment involves taking substances to interfere with the activity of hormones or to stop the production of hormones.