An Overview of Breast Cancer in Males

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

While it is rare, men can develop breast cancer. In the United States, approximately 2,600 develop breast cancer each year, and it is estimated that one out of every 833 is expected to have the disease throughout their lifetimes. (For comparison, about one in eight people assigned female at birth develop breast cancer.)

Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common male breast cancer. IDC originates in the duct and breaks into, or invades, the surrounding fatty tissue.

Early detection is the key to a better outcome. Generally speaking, those assigned male at birth are far less likely than people assigned female at birth to think about the possibility of developing breast cancer, so the diagnosis usually comes as a surprise.

There is a range of outcomes depending on the stage (how far it has spread), grade (aggressiveness of the tumor), tumor type (which area of breast tissue it originated from), and a person's overall health.

male v. female breast composition
Verywell / Jessica Olah


Breast cancer typically does not cause signs or symptoms until it reaches a relatively advanced stage. In assigned males, pain or discomfort or changes in the appearance of the breast and surrounding areas may be the first indication of breast cancer.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer in this population include:

  • Pain, tenderness, or discomfort of the breast or nipple
  • A lump in the breast; benign lumps are not uncommon in women, but are rare in men
  • A lump or tenderness of the lymph nodes (underneath the armpit)
  • Dimpling, scaling, or thickening of the skin of the breast
  • A wound, sore, or ulcer of the nipple or skin of the breast
  • Nipple discharge, discoloration, or change in appearance

Because breast cancer might not be on your mind, you might think that you pulled a muscle or had a small injury. It is important not to ignore these problems.

Keep in mind that even if breast cancer is not the cause of your symptoms, whatever is causing them may worsen without treatment.


There are a few conditions that are associated with breast cancer in those assigned male at birth, but males can develop the disease even without having any predisposing factors. The condition increases with advancing age, and the most common age of breast cancer diagnosis in this population is around 68.

Known risk factors for male breast cancer include:

  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • Klinefelter's Syndrome
  • History of cancer treatment
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Obesity

If you're at high risk, you should get regular breast exams and screening when you go to the doctor, and you need to learn how to do your own monthly self-exams.

Family History and Genetics

Those who have close family members (regardless of gender) with breast cancer are at increased risk of developing the condition. Inheriting the breast cancer variants of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene increases the chance of developing breast cancer.

Variants in the CHEK2, PTEN, and PALB2 genes (non-BRCA mutations that raise breast cancer risk) may also be associated with male breast cancer.

It's estimated roughly 20% of those assigned male at birth with breast cancer have an identifiable genetic risk factor, with BRCA2 mutations being most common. Genetic testing for those diagnosed with breast cancer can be helpful for several reasons:

  • To guide therapy with metastatic breast cancer (some treatments are only effective for people who have BRCA mutations)
  • To screen for other types of cancer (for example, BRCA2 mutations are also associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, etc.)
  • To alert family members about their own potential risk for cancer

Klinefelter's Syndrome

Klinefelter syndrome is a rare genetic problem that is associated with a 20%-30% increased risk in male breast cancer. This syndrome occurs when someone assigned male at birth is born with an extra X chromosome, resulting in 47 chromosomes instead of 46. It is often represented as 47 (XXY).

Because they have a Y chromosome, children with this syndrome develop stereotypical male characteristics and genitals. But the extra X chromosome associated with Klinefelter syndrome often causes smaller testicles, enlarged breasts, and possibly impaired fertility.

History of Cancer Treatment

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are associated with an increased risk of cancer. Radiation and chemotherapeutic medications are used to destroy cancer cells, but they can also cause alterations in normal cells, increasing the risk of disease and cancer.

While uncommon, there is a slight increase in secondary cancer among survivors who were treated for cancer.

Radiation therapy to the chest, such as in treatment for lymphoma, for example, is more likely to be associated with breast cancer than radiation to other areas of the body, such as the brain or abdomen.

Cancer treatment that alters hormone levels, such as estrogen therapy for prostate cancer and orchiectomy for testicular cancer, are also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in those assigned male at birth.

Hormone Imbalance

Hormone imbalance, whether caused by disease or medication use can increase the risk of breast cancer in those assigned male at birth. Often, hormonal therapy is necessary for the treatment of illness or to improve a person's quality of life.

Keep in mind that transgender women and transfeminine people who use estrogen therapy have an increased risk of breast cancer compared to cisgender men, and that risk is estimated to be about the same as those assigned female at birth. If you are a transgender woman or transfeminine person, be sure to discuss screening mammograms with a doctor.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

Smoking is one of the leading causes of breast cancer. Heavy alcohol use also is associated with breast cancer, possibly, in part, because alcohol can increase estrogen levels. 

Excessive weight is another risk factor as well, as it alters hormone levels in the body, increasing the production of hormones that promote breast cancer initiation and growth.

Breast Size and Your Risk

Gynecomastia, the enlargement of male breasts, is a common condition that affects approximately 25% of adolescents assigned male at birth. Medications, being overweight, and liver disease can cause gynecomastia in adults assigned male at birth. Gynecomastia is not thought to increase risk of breast cancer, but you should discuss it with a doctor, as there may be a medical cause behind it.


While those assigned female at birth over 40 are advised to get screening mammograms, people assigned male at birth are not generally advised to have this test because it is low yield for people who have a low risk of breast cancer.

That said, if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, then you may need genetic testing and periodic screening tests to identify breast cancer.

The diagnosis of breast cancer in cisgender men is usually initiated after symptoms develop. In these cases, a mammogram may be used for diagnostic purposes. A doctor may also order a breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and a biopsy to identify the tumor, and determine its stage, grade, and type.

You may also need to have imaging and/or a biopsy of nearby lymph nodes so your medical team can check whether the tumor has spread.

Breast Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man


The treatment of breast cancer is similar across the gender spectrum in some ways, but different in others. Treatments are broken down into two broad categories.

  • Local treatments treat cancer at the sight at which it originates (or locally treat isolated metastases). These include surgery and radiation.
  • Systemic treatments address cancer cells wherever they happen to be in the body and include hormonal therapies, targeted therapies, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.

Surgery is almost always part of the breast cancer treatment plan, but other options may also be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Hormonal treatment is commonly used for male breast cancer as 99% of breast cancers in those assigned male at birth are estrogen receptor-positive. It may be started following surgery (and chemotherapy when indicated) or in the case of metastatic breast cancer. In contrast to breast cancer impacting those assigned female at birth, in which aromatase inhibitors have some advantages, the treatment of choice for assigned males is tamoxifen. It typically is used for 5 years following primary treatment (surgery with or without chemotherapy and/or radiation), but in assigned males who are at high risk of recurrence, it may be continued for an additional 5 years.

With metastatic breast cancer in assigned males, 2020 guidelines by the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommend hormonal therapy first-line (as the first treatment approach) as long as the tumor is not progressing rapidly or if a "visceral crisis" is present. A visceral crisis may be present if serum bilirubin (a measure of liver function) is rising rapidly or if shortness of breath due to lung metastases is progressing rapidly. Options include tamoxifen, and aromatase inhibitor plus ovarian suppression therapy, or Fulvestrant, though the order in which they should be given hasn't been determined.

Chemotherapy may be used to treat early stage breast cancer in assigned males prior to surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) or after surgery (adjuvant therapy) to lower the risk of recurrence. As with assigned females with breast cancer, chemotherapy may be recommended if the risk of recurrence is significant based on the size of the tumor, the involvement of lymph nodes, and results of gene expression profile testing (Oncogype DX).

Radiation treatment is often used to shrink a large tumor prior to surgery (neoadjuvant radiation). Radiation is also used to shrink metastatic lesions and as a means of preventing recurrence of a tumor after removal. As with chemotherapy, the need for radiation is estimated based on tumor characteristics and gene testing.

Targeted therapy uses medications designed to home in on specific characteristics of cancer cells or defective cancer genes. In principle, it is similar to hormonal therapy in that it is used if the treatment corresponds with molecular characteristics of an individual cancer (identified with a biopsy) and guidelines for using these medications are the same as in women. Examples include targeted therapy for HER2, PIK3CA mutations, and hereditary BRCA mutations.

Bone modifying agents, often used for those who are postmenopausal with early stage breast cancer, are not routinely recommended for males with the disease but may given when necessary to prevent or treat osteoporosis.

Immunotherapy involves medications designed to help the immune system fight cancer and is only approved for triple-negative breast cancer (tumors that are estrogen receptor-negative), and so is seldom used in males.


Sometimes, breast cancer treatment can put you at a higher risk of infection. It can also make you tired or interfere with your ability to concentrate. While you are undergoing treatment, you may have some limitations (such as avoiding people who could have a contagious infection) or complications (such as feeling fatigue).

These effects should go away after your treatment is complete, but it may take months or even a year for the side effects of your treatment to wear off.

Follow-Up and Recurrence

Risk of recurrence of breast cancer, which can occur up to 15 years (and beyond) the initial diagnosis, persists for all breast cancer survivors. While late recurrences (recurrences 5 or more years after diagnosis) have not been studied in assigned males as they have been in assigned females, assigned females who have estrogen receptor-positive tumors are actually more likely to have the cancer return after 5 years.

Potential symptoms of recurrence in assigned males include new lumps, bone pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, abdominal pain, and persistent headaches.

Follow-up differs across sex in a few ways. Assigned males who undergo a lumpectomy should have an annual mammogram of the involved breast. This is in contrast to breast MRIs recommended for assigned females.

Also, unlike assigned females, the risk that assigned males will develop breast cancer in their non-involved breast is very low, and screening mammograms on the non-involved breast are not recommended unless a hereditary mutation has been identified.


There are mixed conclusions regarding breast cancer survival across sex.

The 5-year survival rates for men with breast cancer differs substantially based on how far the cancer has spread.

If the cancer is located only in the breast, the 5-year survival rate of men with breast cancer is 97%. About 47% of cases are diagnosed at this localized stage. If the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 83%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 22%. 


Learning about the disease, getting timely treatment, and even dealing with pain can make you feel more in control. But it is important that you also address your emotional responses to your diagnosis. You may feel anger, a sense of hopelessness, anxiousness, or a combination of these and other emotions. It's not uncommon to also feel depressed or even alone, as you may not know anyone who has ever been in your shoes.

The most important thing is that you acknowledge your feelings and that you become comfortable seeking and asking for help.

  • Consider joining a breast cancer support group: While it's worth looking for one for assigned males in your community, it's possible that you might not find one. Though breast cancer support groups are often geared toward assigned females and issues that they face, you may still find benefit in participating in one even if you are one of a few assigned males (or the only one).
  • Lean on family and friends: You can choose to open up to one trusted person who you feel comfortable talking to.
  • Seek the help of a therapist: If your feelings are overwhelming or are impacting your day-to-day life, therapy can be helpful.
Was this page helpful?
15 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. American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Breast Cancer in Men.

  2. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC).

  3. Madeira M, Mattar A, Passos RJ, et al. A case report of male breast cancer in a very young patient: what is changing? World J Surg Oncol. 2011 Feb 3;9:16. doi:10.1186/1477-7819-9-16

  4. Frey JD, Salibian AA, Schnabel FR, Choi M, Karp NS. Non-BRCA1/2 breast cancer susceptibility genes: A new frontier with clinical consequences for plastic surgeons. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2017 Nov 20;5(11):e1564. doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001564

  5. Hassett MJ, Somerfield MR, Baker ER, et al. Management of male breast cancer: ASCO guideline. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2020;38(16):1849-1863. doi:10.1200/JCO.19.03120 

  6. Brinton LA. Breast cancer risk among patients with Klinefelter syndromeActa Paediatr. 2011;100(6):814–818. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2010.02131.x

  7. Ronckers CM, Erdmann CA, Land CE. Radiation and breast cancer: a review of current evidence. Breast Cancer Res. 2005;7(1):21-32. doi:10.1186/bcr970

  8. Ferzoco RM, Ruddy KJ. The Epidemiology of Male Breast Cancer. Curr Oncol Rep. 2016;18(1):1. doi:10.1007/s11912-015-0487-4

  9. De blok CJM, Wiepjes CM, Nota NM, et al. Breast cancer risk in transgender people receiving hormone treatment: nationwide cohort study in the Netherlands. BMJ. 2019;365:l1652. doi:10.1136/bmj.l1652 

  10. Fentiman IS. The endocrinology of male breast cancer. Endocr Relat Cancer.  2018 Jun;25(6):R365-R373. doi:10.1530/ERC-18-0117

  11. Drinking Alcohol.

  12. American Cancer Society. Tests for Breast Cancer in Men.

  13. American Cancer Society. Treatment of Breast Cancer in Men, by Stage.

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Side Effects of Cancer Treatment.

  15. Pan H, Gray R, Braybrooke, J, et al. 20-Year Risks of Breast-Cancer Recurrence after Stopping Endocrine Therapy at 5 YearsThe New England Journal of Medicine. 2017;377:1836-1846. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1701830