Male Breast Cancer Overview

Man wearing a Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon on his bare chest
Luis Diaz Devesa / Getty Images

Why Men are at Risk for Breast Cancer:

All people, both female and male, have some breast tissue. During puberty, the hormones estrogen and testosterone send growth signals to our tissues. Estrogen helps women develop more breast tissue, and men get an increase in testosterone, which prevents breast development and encourages testicular growth. But even though men don't develop milk-producing breasts, they still have a small amount of breast tissue. Anyone who has breast tissue is at a risk of developing breast cancer.

Male Breast Cancer Statistics:

According to the American Cancer Society, about 0.22 percent of men's cancer deaths are from breast cancer. This disease is 100 times more common in women than it is in men. Thanks to greater awareness and better treatments, the survival rates for both men and women are on the rise.

Difference in Male and Female Breasts:

Women's breasts when mature are composed of a nipple and areola, behind which are the ducts and lobes, nested within fatty tissue (stroma). Men's breasts also have a nipple, areola, and ducts, but few, if any, lobes (for milk) and usually scant fatty tissue. During a woman's lifetime, her breast tissue is exposed to constant washings of female hormones, which promote growth. Hormonal growth, coupled with a greater amount of breast tissue, accounts for the greater incidence of breast cancer in women. Other factors that increase a woman's risk include having a gene for breast cancer, and environmental exposure to estrogens.

Conditions That Increase Risk for Male Breast Cancer:

Men who have enlarged breasts may have gynecomastia or Klinefelter syndrome (genetic disorder 47,XXY).

• Gynecomastia:

If a man has an increase in breast tissue, or can feel a small amount of tissue about the shape of a button just beneath his areola, it may be a condition called gynecomastia. This is caused by hormonal imbalances, obesity, habitual use of marijuana, severe liver dysfunction, or could be a side effect of some medications. Gynecomastia is not thought to increase a man's risk of breast cancer.

• Klinefelter Syndrome:

Klinefelter syndrome is a rare genetic problem, which could indicate an increased risk of male breast cancer. In Klinefelter syndrome, a man has an extra X chromosome, may have smaller testicles, enlarged breasts and may be infertile.

• Family History or Genetic Mutation:

Men who have a family history of male or female breast cancer, or who carry the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. Knowing your family health history or your genetic risk helps you and your doctor be aware of your risk level.

Common Male Breast Cancer Diagnoses:

Men who are diagnosed with male breast cancer are literally one in a thousand. The American Cancer Society reports that a man faces a lifetime risk of 1/10th of 1%, and has the same survival rates as a woman. Here are the most common diagnoses for male breast cancer:

• IDC: Infiltrating (or invasive) Ductal Carcinoma:

Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common form of male breast cancer, ranking at 80 to 90 percent of all men's breast cancer diagnoses. IDC originates in the duct and breaks into, or invades, the surrounding fatty tissue. It may be contained only within the breast, or it can metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body.

• LBC: Lobular Breast Cancer:

Since most men do not have any lobes in their breast tissue, this kind of breast cancer is extremely rare in men. It occurs at the rate of two percent of all ductal or lobular male breast cancers.

• Paget's Disease of the Nipple
This cancer can start inside the nipple or under the areola and then break through the overlying skin. Paget's disease would appear similar to a rash, but will not respond to the standard skin rash treatments. It is possible that a lump may also be associated with Paget's disease, whether the patient is male or female.

Early Detection Saves Men's Lives, Too

Survival rates for male breast cancer are increasing. This is due to finding the disease at early stage and giving treatment to prevent recurrence and metastasis. Male breast cancer is detected with a clinical exam or a breast self-exam. Do you have a family history of breast cancer? Ask your doctor if you should have a mammogram, to screen your breast tissue. If you are concerned about anything unusual in your breast, please visit your health professional.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Reference: American Cancer Society. "What Are the Key Statistics About Breast Cancer in Men?" Male Breast Cancer. Last revised date: 25 September 2006. American Cancer Society. What Are the Key Statistics About Breast Cancer in Men?