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Male breast cancer

Article Author: Kyndal Rock

Article Date:

Man wearing a pink shirt stands in front of the river.

Many people automatically assume that breast cancer is a woman’s cancer, but men can get it, too. 

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, less than one percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men, and only one in a thousand men will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Although male breast cancer is rare, men who are at risk or who display symptoms may need to get a mammogram

Cancer doesn’t discriminate

While there are many similarities between breast cancer in men and women, there are some important differences that may affect early detection in males.  

Breast size is one of the biggest differences between the two sexes. According to the American Cancer Society, because men have very little breast tissue, it is easier for men and their health care professionals to feel the small masses.  

On the other hand, because men have so little breast tissue, cancers do not need to grow very far to reach the nipple, the skin covering the breast or the muscles underneath the breast. 

Even though breast cancer in men tends to be slightly smaller than in women when it is first found, more often it has already spread to nearby tissue or lymph nodes.  

Breast cancer is most common in older men, with most breast cancers being found after age 50. However, breast cancer can occur at any age. 

Same but different

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common kinds of breast cancer in men are the same as those for women, including invasive ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS.)  

At birth, males and females are both born with a small amount of breast tissue. Once children begin going through puberty, females begin to develop more breast tissue, and men do not.  

While men’s breasts do not fully develop like women’s do, their breast tissue can develop into breast cancer.   While treatment outcomes are very similar to women at the same stage of detection, a man diagnosed with breast cancer should also consider genetic testing.  

“Most males are at very low risk. Fewer than 1% of our patients with breast cancer are male,” said Jennifer Crozier, MD, medical oncologist with Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center. “However, men with a family history of breast cancer or a familial genetic mutation such as BRAC1 or BRAC2 are at higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.”  

Risk factors

While there are risk factors associated with breast cancer, there is no clear cause for breast cancer in males.  

Risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • BRCA mutations
  • Radiation exposure
  • Gynecomastia (or enlarged breasts caused by a hormone imbalance)
  • Obesity
  • Race

Men can lower their risk by maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active. It’s recommended that men limit their alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day and to avoid smoking as these are cancer risk factors, too. 

Symptoms

With a diagnosis of breast cancer, men tend to have a higher mortality rate than women. That’s primarily because they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which may cause a delay in seeking treatment. It’s important for men to practice breast awareness so they notice changes right away.  

The symptoms of breast cancer in men are like those in women. This includes: 

  • A lump or swelling in the breast
  • Redness or flaky skin in the breast
  • An enlargement of one breast
  • Nipple pain or discharge
  • Sores on the nipple
  • An inverted nipple
  • Enlarged underarm lymph nodes

“Men should be on the lookout for any changes to the breasts such as lumps or masses, any changes to the nipple, nipple discharge and breast rashes that do not go away,” said Dr. Crozier.  

If a man is displaying symptoms of breast cancer, he should speak with his physician about getting a mammogram. 


Although it is rare, men can get breast cancer, too. If you notice changes in the look and feel of your breast, contact your primary care provider or Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center by filling out this form or calling 1.844.MDA.BAPTIST (1.844.632.2278).

Sources: Centers for Disease ControlNational Breast Cancer FoundationMD Anderson Cancer Center 

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