This section provides information about male breast cancer.
About male breast cancer
Breast cancer in men is very rare and mainly affects older men aged 60 to 70.
Even though male breast cancer is rare, it’s a good idea to get to know what looks and feels normal for your breasts. If you notice any changes, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Most men notice a painless lump in their breast before any other symptom.
But remember that the majority of lumps in the breast aren’t because of cancer – they’re usually because of another condition called gynaecomastia (sometimes called ‘man boobs’). It’s particularly common in in teenaged boys and older men and doesn’t usually need any treatment.
Facts about breast cancer in men
- In the UK, around 350 men a year are diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s compared to 50,000 cases a year in women1
- The symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in men are the same as in women.
What is male breast cancer?
Your body is continuously renewing its cells. Normally, you make new cells when and where they’re needed. But if you have breast cancer, the cells in your breasts grow and multiply abnormally. This develops into a tumour in the breast tissue behind your nipple. Usually, a lump is the first symptom men notice.
1 Cancer Research UK, Male breast cancer. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/rare-cancers/rare-cancers-name/breast-cancer-in-men
Types of male breast cancer
There are several different types of breast cancer. Each type can affect men and women. The most common type of breast cancer is invasive ductal breast cancer. This means the cancer started in the cells that line your breast ducts.
Because the breast cancer types are the same in men and women, you can read more about each type here.
Causes and risk factors
Growing older is the biggest risk factor for male breast cancer, with most cases being diagnosed in 60 to 70-year-olds. Other risk factors include:
- high levels of oestrogen
- exposure to radiation
- a family history of breast cancer
- Klinefelter’s syndrome – a rare genetic condition.
Male breast cancer symptoms and diagnosis
The main symptom of male breast cancer is a lump in the breast, usually painless and can be felt behind the nipple.
Other male breast cancer symptoms are less common and tend to show in the nipple. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should visit your doctor:
- your nipple turns in on itself
- your nipple feels hard or looks sore
- a discharge from the nipple that might have blood in it
- lumps under your arm, usually around the armpit.
Diagnosing breast cancer in men
Usually male breast cancer is diagnosed with an ultrasound scan or an X-ray of your breast called a mammogram.
After your scan or mammogram, you might need to have a biopsy. This means your consultant breast specialist will take a small sample of cells from the abnormal area to look at under a microscope. This procedure is normally done under local anaesthetic and cores of tissue are obtained or alternatively cells are removed with a fine needle.
If your breast specialist identifies cancer, you might need to have other tests to see if the cancer has spread. Usually these are more scans of other areas of your chest or body, and tests to see if the breast cancer cells have receptors for certain hormones or proteins. The results from these tests will help to inform the treatment you need.
Screening for breast cancer – next steps
If you notice any of the male breast cancer symptoms mentioned such as lumps, soreness or something unusual in your breast area, we strongly advise that you see your GP for a referral to see a consultant breast specialist.
Male breast cancer treatment
The treatment you have depends on the type of cancer you have, what stage your cancer’s at, your overall health and your personal wishes. You might need one or a combination of different treatments, including:
Surgery is the most common treatment for men with breast cancer. Usually, your surgeon will recommend your whole breast is removed. This is called a mastectomy. Because there’s not much breast tissue in men, it’s usually difficult to leave any behind after removing the cancer. If the muscle beneath your breast is close to the cancer, you might need part of that removed too.
If you have invasive breast cancer, your surgeon might remove some of the lymph nodes from your armpit and get them tested for cancer cells.
It’s not usual for men to have breast reconstruction after surgery because there aren’t currently any implants that recreate the shape of male breasts.
After surgery, you may need radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or a combination to cut the risk of the cancer cells growing back. It’s fairly uncommon to need these treatments before surgery, although some men might need chemotherapy or hormone therapy to shrink the cancer first.
Paying for your treatment
You have two options to pay for your treatment – your costs may be covered by your private medical insurance, or you can pay for yourself.
Check with your private medical insurer to see if your diagnostic costs are covered under your medical insurance policy.
If you are paying for your own treatment the cost of the procedure will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the operation.
Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the consultants’ fees and the hospital charge for your procedure.
Want to know more?
If you’d like to read more about male breast cancer, treatment or living with breast cancer, please visit cancerresearchuk.org.uk. Also, please read our section on Breast Cancer for more detailed information on breast cancer and treatment options.