Breast Cancer & Men

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer in men is a rare disease, accounting for about one percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States. It is estimated that there will be more than 2,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men this year. For men, their lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 833.

The incidence rate of breast cancer in men is thought to be due to their smaller amount of breast tissue. Men produce less hormones such as estrogen which is known to affect breast cancers in women.

How Can Men Get Breast Cancer?

Even though men have a smaller amount of breast tissue they can still develop breast cancer. The "breasts" of an adult man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty, and consist of a few ducts surrounded by breast and other tissue. As young girls enter puberty their breast tissue grows and develops in response to female hormones. Since men do not produce the same amounts of these hormones their breast tissue does not develop.

However, because it is still breast tissue, men can develop breast cancer. Men get the same types of breast cancers that women do, although cancers involving the milk producing and storing regions of the breast are rare.

Risk Factors

As with women, a man’s risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Most male breast cancers are diagnosed between the ages of 60 to 70 years. It is rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer.

Other risk factors of male breast cancer include:

  • Family history of breast cancer, about 20 percent of men with breast cancer have a close female relative with breast cancer
  • BRCA2 gene mutations - some men and women have genetic mutations of the BRCA2 gene, which can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) mutations also increase the risk for breast cancer in women. Men who carry mutations of the BRCA1 gene may pass the gene along to their daughters, who would be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • History of radiation exposure to the chest such as treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease
  • Abnormal enlargement of breasts (gynecomastia) in response to drug or hormone treatments
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome (a rare genetic condition)
  • Severe liver disease
  • Diseases of the testicles, a testicular injury or an undescended testicle

How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed in Men?

A breast lump or abnormality will be evaluated by your healthcare provider with a clinical breast exam and complete physical exam to check for enlarged lymph nodes, liver problems, etc. A complete personal and family history will be taken, since male breast cancer tends to occur more frequently when one or more female relatives also has (or has had) breast cancer.

Because men have significantly less breast tissue than most women, a breast lump or other abnormality is usually much easier to detect with physical examination on a man than on a woman. A mammogram, and possibly an ultrasound, would be performed to evaluate the lump or abnormality.

If cancer is suspected, a biopsy will be performed that allows a thorough examination of the breast tissue for any signs of cancer. A biopsy involves taking samples of breast tissue for pathological examination under a microscope and is the only way to determine whether or not breast cancer is present.

Treating Male Breast Cancer

Likewise, the same treatments that are used in treating breast cancer in women -- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and endocrine therapy -- are also used to treat breast cancer in men. The one major difference is that men with breast cancer respond much better to hormone treatments than women do.

Take Home Message

All men should be proactive regarding their health, as with women, we recommend monthly breast self-exams. If you notice any changes or something doesn’t feel right, report it to your healthcare provider immediately for evaluation.

Knowledge is power, be informed, be aware and take care of yourself!

To find a qualified physician, call Physical Referral Services at (561) 263-5737.