How Male Breast Cancer Is Treated

Breast cancer is far less common in men than it is in women. However, the condition still causes over 2,000 cases and over 500 deaths in the United States.

Breast cancer treatment in men is focused on removing the cancerous tissues and preventing recurrence. Treatments may involve surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or targeted therapies.

This article will discuss conventional medical treatments, home remedies, and lifestyle changes to treat male breast cancer. It will also cover complementary therapies used as treatment.

male breast cancer

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Home Remedies and Lifestyle

The primary treatment course for men with breast cancer involves medication, surgery, and radiation. Home remedies may help alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of cancer or the effects of treatment. However, no solid research supports home remedies to treat male breast cancer.

A modifiable lifestyle that has been identified as a risk factor for male breast cancer is heavy alcohol consumption.

Heavy alcohol consumption can negatively affect liver function. The liver controls hormone levels, when it is not working properly it causes a hormone imbalance with lower androgen levels and increased estrogen levels. Men with liver disease have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Drug Therapy

One of the mainstay treatments for male breast cancer is drug therapy. There are many different types of medications and a healthcare provider will determine which kind is best for each patient.

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy, also called endocrine therapy, is a type of male breast cancer treatment that aims to stop cancer from growing.

Before someone can have hormone therapy, they need a hormone receptor test to see if there are estrogen and progesterone receptors. Not every case of male breast cancer will be sensitive to hormone therapy. A hormone receptor test is done in a lab on a piece of cancerous tissue.

If the receptor test shows there are cancer cells that have spots for hormones to attach, then hormone therapy can be used.

Your healthcare provider will determine which therapy is needed based on several factors, including how far the cancer has spread. Hormone therapy drug types can include:

  • Tamoxifen: Used for people with estrogen and progesterone-receptor positive breast cancer and those with metastatic breast cancer
  • Aromatase inhibitor: Used in those with metastatic breast cancer who cannot take tamoxifen
  • Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonist: Used in men with metastatic breast cancer

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses medications to stop cancer from growing. It can be given by an injection in a vein or orally with a pill.

When chemotherapy is given before surgery, it is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. When it is given after surgery, it is called adjuvant chemotherapy.

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is used to shrink a breast cancer tumor before surgery. It is used when the tumor is too large to remove. It also may kill any cancer cells that have spread.

Adjuvant chemotherapy is given to kill cancer cells that might have spread but are not showing up on tests. It can reduce the chance of the return of breast cancer.

There are many types of chemotherapy drugs. Healthcare providers will often give two or three drug combinations.

Chemotherapies used for neoadjuvant and adjuvant therapy can include:

  • Lipodox (Doxorubicin)
  • Ellence (Epirubicin)
  • Taxol (Paclitaxel)
  • Taxotere (Docetaxel)
  • 5-FU (5-fluorouracil)
  • Carboplatin (paraplatin)
  • Cytoxan (Cyclophosphamide)

Men who have breast cancer that has metastasized (spread) receive different chemotherapy drugs. Their regime may only include one or two chemotherapy medications.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a group of medications that kill cancer cells or help other medications work better. These medications work differently than chemotherapy.

There are four types of targeted therapies used to treat breast cancer in men. They are:

  • Monoclonal antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies are proteins from the immune system made to treat many conditions including cancer. The antibodies attach to cancer cells and can stop them from growing, stop them from spreading, or kill the cells.
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors: This is a type of medication that stops the signals which make tumors grow.
  • Cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors: These targeted therapies stop cyclin-dependent kinases (a type of protein) that make cancer cells grow.
  • Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors: This therapy stops the mTOR protein which may stop the growth of cancer cells and stop new blood vessels from growing to help the tumor.

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

Treating breast cancer in men often involves surgery and radiation. These procedures may both be needed or only one may be indicated.

Surgery

Men with breast cancer will most likely have some type of surgery as a part of their treatment plan.

A modified radical mastectomy is usually necessary with male breast cancer. This surgery involves removing all of the breast tissue, nipple, areola, skin, and lymph nodes under the arm.

A breast-conserving surgery (BCS), removes only the cancer and leaves some of the breast tissue. This type of surgery is less common for men but if it is done it is typically followed by radiation.

Men may also have surgery to see if breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This surgery is done by removing one or more lymph nodes and having them evaluated in a lab.

Radiation

Radiation is a type of breast cancer treatment that uses high-energy rays to keep cancer cells from growing or to kill them. External beam radiation is the type most commonly used radiation treatment in men. It uses a radiation machine to give radiation to a single spot on the body.

Not many medical studies have evaluated radiation in men, so expert recommendations are taken from studies done on women. A healthcare provider will determine if or when radiation is right for the patient and discuss any potential risks.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are nontraditional therapies used to treat various conditions. CAM therapies are not well studied and have not been proven to treat male breast cancer.

Before anyone starts CAM therapy they should talk to their healthcare provider. Some CAM therapies may not be proven to treat a certain condition but may help manage some of the unpleasant symptoms. Examples are:

Summary

Male breast cancer is treated with various therapies based on a person's preference, cancer stage, and goals. Treatment can involve chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and targeted drug therapy. A healthcare provider will guide a patient through their diagnosis and treatment options, as everyone will be different.

A Word From Verywell

Breast cancer information is heavily focused on women, but men also need to be included in the discussions. Male breast cancer is rare, but it still causes over 500 deaths per year. Men need to report any changes in their breasts to their healthcare provider to ensure they receive prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the survival rate for men diagnosed with breast cancer?

    The five-year survival rate for men diagnosed with breast cancer that has not spread outside of the breast is 95%. This statistic is taken from men diagnosed between 2011 and 2017, so survival rates may have increased since then.

9 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. Johns Hopkins Medicine. About breast cancer in men.

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

  4. National Cancer Institute. Male breast cancer treatment.

  5. American Cancer Society. Chemotherapy for breast cancer in men.

  6. American Cancer Society. Surgery for breast cancer in men.

  7. American Cancer Society. Radiation therapy for breast cancer in men.

  8. National Cancer Institute. Complementary and alternative medicine.

  9. American Cancer Society. Breast cancer survival rates in men.

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.