Breast cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the breast tissue. Although male breasts do not fully develop, they do contain most of the same basic breast structures as women. Male breasts include small glands called lobules, ducts, and the nipple. These structures are also surrounded by fatty tissue. All of these structures are susceptible to developing breast cancer in men.
Breast cancer in men is rare, accounting for about 1% of all breast cancer. Unfortunately, awareness of it is also rare. Because of this, the cancer is often diagnosed in advanced stages. Like all other cancers, early diagnosis and treatment are important for the most favorable outcome.
Types of breast cancer found in men are:
- Infiltrating ductal carcinoma: Cancer starts in the ducts of the breast and spreads into surrounding tissues. This is the most common type of breast cancer in men.
- Ductal carcinoma situ: Early stage cancer confined to the ducts. This type has the highest cure rate.
- Infiltrating lobular carcinoma: A rare cancer that starts in the lobules of the breast and spreads into surrounding tissues.
- Paget’s disease: A very rare cancer that starts in the ducts and spreads to the nipple and areola.
- Inflammatory: A very rare, but aggressive cancer that occurs with visible changes in the skin around the breast and nipple.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues including the lymph nodes. Cancer that has invaded the lymph nodes can then spread to other parts of the body. The lymph nodes associated with breast cancer are in the armpit, above the collarbone, and in the chest.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Factors that may increase your risk of developing breast cancer include:
- Advancing age
- Family history of breast cancer
- Genetic mutations, such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and others
- Exposure to radiation, especially in the chest
- Exposure to increased levels of estrogen, which may occur with:
- Klinefelter syndrome
- Liver diseases
- Heavy alcohol use
- Testicular disorders, such as an undescended testicle
- Prostate cancer treatment
- Certain occupations, such as exposure to high heat or gasoline fumes
When breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all. As the cancer grows, it can cause the following changes:
- One or more lumps in the breast, which may or may not be painful
- One or more lumps in lymph nodes near the breast, under your arm, or collarbone that which may or may not be painful
- Changes in the skin or nipple, such as dimpling, puckering, or nipple retraction
- Redness, irritation, or ulceration of the skin in the breast area
- Discharge from the nipple, which may be clear or bloody
In most cases, diagnosis can be confirmed with a biopsy. A sample of the suspicious tissue will be removed and sent to a lab to look for cancer cells.
Types of biopsies include:
- Fine-needle aspiration
- Core needle
- Samples of lymph tissue and nipple discharge
Imaging tests can help with diagnosis and determine the extent of cancer. These may include:
- MRI scan
If cancer is present, your doctor may order other tests to learn more about the type of cancer. These may include:
- Blood tests
- Tissue evaluation
Treating Breast Cancer in Men
A combination of therapies is most effective. For example, radiation may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after to make sure all the cancer has been removed.
Treatment options include:
- Modified radical mastectomy
- Radical mastectomy
- Axillary lymph node dissection.
- Sentinel node biopsy
- Radiation Therapy
- Biologic therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Hormone blocking therapy
There are no current guidelines to screen for breast cancer in men. Finding breast cancer early and treating it promptly is the best way to prevent death. Since breast cancer does not cause symptoms in the early stages, be aware of any changes in your body and talk to your doctor about them.
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.