Breast Cancer (Male)

What is Male Breast Cancer?

Cancer is the common name for a number of different diseases which have one thing in common: the body’s cells behave abnormally. Cancer can develop in any organ or system of the body. Breast cancer develops when the cells in the area surrounding the breast behave abnormally. In men it usually develops in the small amount of breast tissue they have behind their nipples.

Differences Between Male and Female Breast Cancer

The most obvious difference between the average male and female breast is size. Men have comparatively little breast tissue making it easier to detect a mass. However, because of this it is easy for them to spread to other tissues and organs. The bottom line is that breast cancers detected in men are often smaller than those detected in women however, they are more likely to have spread and therefore be at a more advanced stage.

Risk Factors for Male Breast Cancer

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. It is not the cause of the disease and having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop the disease.

Risk factors for breast cancer in men are:

  • Aging – most men are over 65 at time of diagnosis
  • Family history – about 20% of men with breast cancer have an immediate male or female blood relative with breast cancer. Having a family history of ovarian or colon cancer may also pose an increased risk.
  • Estrogen treatment – men with prostate cancer are sometime treated with hormone therapy which includes the female hormone estrogen. Estrogen is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Obesity – obese men tend to have higher levels of the female hormone estrogen in their body, thereby increasing their risk.
  • Physical inactivity – this increases the risk of developing many types of cancer.
  • Alcohol – heavy alcohol intake increases the risk.
  • Liver disease – men with liver conditions such as cirrhosis may be at increased risk.
  • Radiation exposure – men who have received radiation exposure to the chest area e.g. as a result of treatment for lymphoma are at increased breast cancer risk.
  • Klinefelterfs syndrome – this is a disorder, present at birth, in some men which causes them to have more female hormones compared to most men, thereby increasing their risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men

  • A lump or swelling
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple retraction i.e. turning inward
  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • An ulcer or sore on the skin
  • Diagnosis of breast cancer in men

Breast cancer in men is diagnosed much the same way as it is in women and may include a clinical breast examination by a physician, a breast ultrasound, a diagnostic mammogram and biopsy.

Benign Conditions of the Male Breast

Sometimes a man may see or feel a button-like or disk-like growth under his nipple and areola. In most cases this is a non-cancerous growth which develops as a result of a medical condition known as gynecomastia, a disorder that develops because of an increase in breast tissue. Occasionally, this condition can develop into breast cancer.

Treatment of Breast Cancer in Men

Breast cancer in men is treated similarly to how it is treated in women and can include a mastectomy as well as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.

Prevention of Breast Cancer in Men

You can reduce your risk by:

  • Using alcohol in moderation,
  • Exercising on a regular basis and,

Controlling your weight.

Take Home Message

Men do NOT die of embarrassment. If you notice any change in your breast or surrounding tissue please contact your doctor immediately.