Breast Cancer: Men Get It Too
Updated September 24, 2020
Breast cancer is often thought of as a disease that only strikes women. But men also have breast tissue, which means they can develop cancer in that tissue.
Risk Factors for Male Breast Cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute, some men have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Factors that can increase a man’s chances of the disease include:
- Having been exposed to radiation
- Having a disease linked to high estrogen levels, like cirrhosis of the liver
- Having several female relatives who have had breast cancer—especially if those relatives have inherited changes in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes or other genes that increase the risk of breast cancer
Risk factors don’t mean a man will develop breast cancer. But they’re something you need to be aware of if you are a man and should discuss with your doctor if you have any of them.
Symptoms, Testing, and Treatment for Male Breast Cancer
Women usually get regular mammograms, which are good at detecting breast cancer in its earliest stage. However, men don’t get such testing. So most male breast cancer is detected when men notice a lump or other changes in their chest—which means that male breast cancer is typically more advanced when it’s diagnosed. But it doesn’t mean breast cancer is deadlier in men than it is in women.
“Stage by stage, comparing men and women, their overall survival is pretty similar,” said Alina Mateo, MD, a breast fellow at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “So there’s no reason to think that male breast cancer is more aggressive than the female counterpart. It’s just a lot of times if we’re not really looking for it and screening for it, what we’re presented with is a more advanced stage.”
Once men find a lump, there are a few testing options. In addition to a physical exam and clinical breast exam, a doctor may suggest an ultrasound, MRI, or a biopsy to determine the nature of the lump.
Once breast cancer is diagnosed, testing is done to determine the type of cancer and if it has spread. Based on that information, a personalized treatment plan is created. The standard treatments for male breast cancer are:
- Hormone therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. It’s a fairly rare disease, but there’s much to be learned—especially about the emotional challenges men face when diagnosed with it.
“There’s a real stigma tied to men with breast cancer,” Mateo said. “Breasts are symbolic of a woman’s femininity and sexuality. You can have a lot of body image issues as a man being recently diagnosed. We still have a long way to go to normalize this disease and make it easy for males to talk about it. There’s still a lot that has to be done.”
Learn more about male breast cancer at Cancer.org.