How Male Breast Cancer Is Diagnosed

Male breast cancer is a rare disease in which cancer cells develop in the breast tissue. Though breast cancer is often viewed as a disease that affects women, men account for about 1% of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States every year.

Knowing the signs of male breast cancer is key to getting an early diagnosis. This requires meeting with a healthcare provider who can assess your symptoms and risk of disease. Medical tests such as a mammogram, breast ultrasound, or breast biopsy may be used to assess your problems.

Finding male breast cancer early gives you the best chance of getting care when treatment is most successful.

This article describes the methods used to diagnose male breast cancer, including self-checks, physical exams, and medical tests.

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Self-Checks/At-Home Testing

Conducting a breast self-exam can help you identify changes in your body that may be early indicators of male breast cancer. Being familiar with the way your breast tissue normally looks can make it easier to notice a lump, swelling, or other changes.

Because men's breasts are smaller than women's breasts, men can usually feel lumps in their early stages. However, without doing regular self-checks, you may not notice a lump until the disease has progressed to a more advanced level.

While a lump under the nipple and areola is the most common symptom of male breast cancer, there are other signs of the disease. To conduct a self-exam for male breast cancer, follow this procedure:

  • Step 1: Stand shirtless in front of a mirror. Put your arms on your hips and tighten your chest muscles. Look for physical changes such as a lump, oddly shaped or sized breasts, inward-turned nipple, dimpling, puckering, or redness.
  • Step 2: Raise your arms above your head and examine your breast and armpits for physical changes.
  • Step 3: Return your arms to your hips. Start with the nipple and move outward in a circular motion, use your fingertips to apply mild pressure to each breast. Feel for lumps or pebble-like growths. Continue to feel the underarms to test for enlarged lymph nodes there.
  • Step 4: As you move outward on each breast, feel up to your collarbone, then down to the lowest rib on each side.

Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of changes to your breasts, armpits, neck, or rib area. Nipple discharge or breast pain that develops without an obvious cause should also be discussed with your provider.

Delayed Treatment in Male Breast Cancer

The prognosis for men with breast cancer is similar to the outcomes for women diagnosed at the same age and stage of the disease. However, male breast cancer is often diagnosed at later stages than it is in women, resulting in lower survival rates. This delay in treatment is attributed to the fact that men are less likely to know they can get breast cancer and/or they are embarrassed to seek care for a disease primarily associated with females.

Physical Examination

If your healthcare provider suspects that you have symptoms of male breast cancer, a physical examination is the first step needed to determine your diagnosis.

This examination can be done by your general healthcare provider. It includes a complete personal and family medical history to determine your breast cancer risk. Be prepared to provide information regarding current medications, diet, and lifestyle to help your healthcare provider provide an accurate diagnosis.

You may have a higher risk of male breast cancer if you have any of the following risk factors:

If your healthcare provider suspects male breast cancer, they will also perform a clinical breast examination as part of your office visit. While the clinical breast examination is much like the self-examination, it is conducted by a healthcare professional whose training can help them identify subtle problems that patients can miss during a self-check.

A clinical breast examination includes the following actions:

  • Visual inspection to identify differences in shape or size between breasts in different postures, such as raising your arms over your head, hanging your arms by your side, or pressing your hands on your hips
  • Visual inspection of breast tissue texture for signs of a rash, enlarged pores, dimpling, inward-turned nipple, or other abnormal conditions
  • Manual examination using the pads of their fingers to feel for unusual texture or lumps over the entire breast, underarm, and collarbone areas


Imaging tests provide detailed pictures of your breasts and other areas inside your body. These non-invasive tests help your healthcare provider find breast cancer in its early stages.

The type of imaging test your healthcare provider uses depends on your symptoms. The most common types of imaging used to diagnose male breast cancer include:

  • Diagnostic mammogram: A diagnostic mammogram uses low-dose X-rays to identify abnormal areas of tissue within the breast. This type of mammogram is more detailed than a screening mammogram. The procedure uses two plates that compress or flatten the breast to spread the tissue apart. Some people experience discomfort during the procedure due to the pressure exerted on the sensitive breast tissue.
  • Breast ultrasound: A breast ultrasound uses inaudible sound waves to provide high-contrast images of the inside of your breasts. Unlike a mammogram, a breast ultrasound doesn't use radiation. A breast ultrasound uses a handheld instrument called a transducer, which is moved over the skin. While you may feel some pressure during the process, a breast ultrasound is less uncomfortable than a mammogram.
  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A breast MRI uses powerful magnets and the injection of contrast dye to deliver a picture of your breasts without radiation or uncomfortable breast compression. A breast MRI is usually done while you lay on your belly on a table inside a long, narrow tube. Loud noises, like those of a washing machine, are made during the procedure. A breast MRI may be unsuitable if you are claustrophobic or have metal objects, like artificial limbs, in your body.
  • Breast biopsy: A breast biopsy involves the surgical removal of a sample of breast tissue so it can be assessed for breast cancer. It may be used as a follow-up to abnormal findings in a mammogram, breast ultrasound, or breast MRI. Ultrasound is often used during these procedures to guide the radiologist to the targeted area.

There are three types of breast biopsies:

  • Fine needle aspiration: A fine needle aspiration involves drawing fluid from a cystic lump in the breast.
  • Core needle biopsy: A core needle biopsy removes a small amount of suspicious breast tissue using a hollow "core" needle, which is larger than a fine needle.
  • Open (surgical) biopsy: An open, or surgical, biopsy involves a one- to two-inch cut on the breast to allow for the surgical removal of a tissue sample or an entire lump.

Differential Diagnosis

Male breast cancer is a very rare disease. However, the disease shares many of the same symptoms with several other conditions. Getting an accurate diagnosis as soon as you recognize symptoms is the best way to get the right treatment, alleviate your fears, and achieve the best outcomes.

The differential diagnosis of male breast cancer includes the following diseases:


Male breast cancer is a rare disease that accounts for about 1% of all breast cancer diagnoses in the United States yearly. It is caused by the growth of cancer cells in breast tissue.

The fact that breast cancer is so rare among men, means that those affected are often unaware of their disease risk. As a result, breast cancer is often found at later stages in men than it is in women, who are trained to know the signs of disease and seek early care.

Patient education can help men know their risk and look for early signs of illness. A diagnosis requires an exam by a healthcare provider. Medical tests such as a mammogram, breast ultrasound, or breast biopsy are needed for an accurate diagnosis. Finding the disease early supports the best treatment outcomes.

A Word From Verywell

A diagnosis of male breast cancer can carry both physical and emotional impacts. Having breast cancer can be challenging for men since the condition is regarded as a women's disease.

Don't ignore your emotional response to the disease. While feelings of despair, loneliness, and even embarrassment can be overwhelming, don't let these issues interfere with your attention to your physical care and treatment.

Realize that taking care of yourself includes getting the tools you need for emotional healing. Seek support from family and friends with whom you feel comfortable sharing your diagnosis.

If you're having trouble coping with your diagnosis, speak to your healthcare provider about the benefits of working with a therapist to help you heal emotionally as well as physically.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the most common type of male breast cancer?

    The most common type of male breast cancer is infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC). This disease begins in the lining of the milk ducts and spreads to surrounding normal tissue outside the ducts. It is the most common type of breast cancer for both men and women, representing 80% of all breast cancer diagnoses.

  • What is the survival rate for patients with male breast cancer?

    The five-year survival rate for men with breast cancer is 84%. The 10-year survival rate is 73%. It's important to consider that survival rates and treatment outcomes vary widely based on individual factors including the type of breast cancer, age and stage of disease at diagnosis, and overall patient health.

  • Can I reduce my risk of male breast cancer?

    Some risk factors linked to male breast cancer, such as a family history of breast cancer and mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, can't be changed. However, you can modify lifestyle factors to reduce your risk of getting male breast cancer. This includes stopping smoking, limiting alcohol use, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and exercising daily. Knowing your risks and following up on screening guidance can improve your chances of early detection and a good prognosis if the disease develops.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast cancer in men.

  2. American Cancer Society. Can breast cancer in men be found early?

  3. Orlando Health. Male breast self-exam.

  4. Co M, Lee A, Kwong A. Delayed presentation, diagnosis, and psychosocial aspects of male breast cancerCancer Med. 2020;9(10):3305-3309. doi:10.1002/cam4.2953

  5. American Cancer Society. Risk factors for breast cancer in men.

  6. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Clinical breast exam.

  7. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Breast biopsy.

  8. Sencha AN, Evseeva EV, Ozerskaya IA, et al. Differential diagnosis of male breast cancer. In: Sencha AN, ed. Imaging of Male Breast Cancer. Springer International Publishing; 2015:97-123. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-06050-7_7

  9. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC).

  10. Susan G. Komen. Treatment for male breast cancer.

By Anna Giorgi
Anna Zernone Giorgi is a writer who specializes in health and lifestyle topics. Her experience includes over 25 years of writing on health and wellness-related subjects for consumers and medical professionals, in addition to holding positions in healthcare communications.