Male Breast Cancer Blog

What to Know About Male Breast Cancer

  • Early detection can make a difference

    We typically think of breast cancer as a woman’s disease. But although it happens rarely, men can get breast cancer too — and they may not be aware of their risk.

    “Men certainly can develop breast cancer, although at a lesser rate than women,” says Fox Chase Cancer Center surgical oncologist Austin D. Williams, MD, MSEd. Women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. That risk is somewhere around 1 in 1,000 for men, with approximately 2,000 cases of male breast cancer diagnosed in the US per year.

    As a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer, Dr. Williams hears a lot of questions about how breast cancer affects men — and what men should know about their risk. Here are answers to some of the most common.

    Who is at higher risk?

    Simply getting older increases your risk, noted Dr. Williams. Most men with breast cancer are older than 50. Your risk also rises if you have a condition that raises the level of the female hormone estrogen in your body. That includes obesity, certain liver diseases, and the genetic condition Klinefelter syndrome (a genetic condition).

    Medications and other treatments that raise estrogen levels can also affect your risk for breast cancer. If you are a transgender woman on gender-affirming estrogen therapy, you should ask your doctor if this may increase your breast cancer risk.

    If you are a transgender man, you should talk to your doctor about whether you need mammograms. Even if you’ve had top surgery, you may have a higher breast cancer risk than cisgender males.

    Other risk factors for male breast cancer include:

    • Previous radiation treatment to the chest
    • Having had a testicle surgically removed
    • Having a family history of breast cancer or inheriting a BRCA gene mutation

    Currently, breast cancer screening isn’t generally recommended, said Dr. Williams. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your body.

    And it’s a good idea for everyone to be aware of their bodies — and see a doctor right away to ask about any lumps or breast cancer symptoms.

    What are the signs and symptoms?

    The most common symptom of male breast cancer is a lump, Dr. Williams said. Many men with breast cancer notice a lump behind their nipple. “But it can be anywhere in the breast tissue,” Dr. Williams noted.

    Other changes that might signal breast cancer include:

    • A fluid discharge from the nipple
    • Changes in the skin or on the nipple, including a dimpling or puckering of the skin

    “For any cancer, early detection is key in terms of having the most successful treatment,” Dr. Williams said. But because men don’t get regular screenings, their cancer usually isn’t detected until they notice a lump. That’s why it’s crucial to let your doctor know immediately if you notice a lump or other breast change.

    To diagnose or rule out breast cancer, your doctor may recommend a mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, or other test.

    How is male breast cancer treated?

    The treatment options depend on the subtype of cancer a man has and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or beyond.

    Most men with breast cancers have either a mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery that removes the tumor and a small amount of healthy, nearby tissue. Other treatments may include radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy.

    At Fox Chase, patients have access to all these treatments, plus breast reconstruction after mastectomy, which can help restore the appearance of a man’s chest and nipple. An entire team of oncology specialists uses cutting-edge science to fight cancer. And Fox Chase oncologists have experience treating both women and men with breast cancer.

    “We have a dedicated breast cancer team,” Dr. Williams said. “That is all we do, all day, every day.”

    To schedule a consultation with the Fox Chase Breast Cancer Program, call 888-369-2427 or request an appointment online.