Causes of Male Breast Pain and Swelling

Gynecomastia, Breast Cancer, and Other Male Breast Concerns

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Breast problems are assumed to impact only women. However, while not discussed often, males may experience breast pain and enlargement, nipple pain, and even breast cancer.

It is important for men to report breast concerns to their healthcare providers so that the causes can be explored. Symptoms like pain or an increase in breast size need to be assessed. Quick diagnosis and treatment are important.

Common causes of male breast pain and swelling.

Verywell / Emily Roberts

This article explains the possible causes of breast pain and swelling in males. It also discusses when you may need to be concerned about breast cancer.

Causes of Male Breast Pain

Most causes of male breast pain are benign, meaning not cancerous. Breast pain can be caused by hormonal changes, infections, or injuries, or from unknown causes. 

Some common causes of male breast pain include:

  • Breast injury: An injury to the breast may cause the death of fatty tissue. This can lead to a breast lump or dimple that can look like breast cancer, even on an imaging test. A biopsy, which uses a needle to draw out fluid from the lump, may be needed to rule out cancer.
  • Runner's nipple: It's common for individuals to get irritated or bloody nipples from jogging or running. Friction over the nipples can result in pain, discomfort, and bleeding.
  • Mastitis: An infection of breast tissue can occur in males on rare occasions, though the cause is unknown.
  • Breast cyst: A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac that's not cancerous. Extremely rare cases have been reported in males. However, the cause is not known.
  • Fibroadenoma: While uncommon in males, this benign breast tumor can occur. Breast swelling usually occurs alongside fibroadenoma. The causes are unclear but may be due to a hormonal imbalance.

Causes of Male Breast Swelling

Overdevelopment or swelling of breast tissue, also called gynecomastia, may occur in males at the following times:

  • During their teen years, as a normal part of the hormonal changes that occur during puberty
  • Over the age of 50, as the body naturally starts to make less testosterone

Any condition that increases estrogen or decreases testosterone can cause gynecomastia. Keep in mind that the cause of breast swelling in some cases may be unknown.

Health Conditions

Other possible causes of gynecomastia include:

Medications

Certain drugs can also cause gynecomastia, including:

Long-term use or overuse of these medications can increase the risk of breast swelling, especially in older males.

There May Be Multiple Causes


More than one factor may be causing your gynecomastia. For example, someone may have mild gynecomastia because of their age or weight. The condition may worsen after taking certain medications.

Breast Cancer in Males

Generally, male breast cancer is rare, but it does happen. In 2021, there were about 2,650 new cases of breast cancer in males compared to 281,550 new cases in females.

Males account for only 1 out of every 100 diagnosed cases of breast cancer. Male breast cancer most affects individuals over the age of 60.

Risk Factors

Common risk factors include:

  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Obesity
  • Klinefelter's syndrome
  • Exposure to a form of energy called radiation

Males who have a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have a higher risk of breast cancer than males who do not.

There are also non-BRCA gene mutations associated with breast cancer. Some of these increase the risk of breast cancer in males. Knowing your family history of cancer is important so you can be proactive and get screened for these mutations.

Remember that a family history of other types of cancer is also important in understanding your cancer risk. For example, BRCA2 mutations increase the risk of breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.

Symptoms

Symptoms of breast cancer in males and females are similar and include:

  • A lump or swelling of the breast 
  • Breast skin dimples or puckers that don't go away
  • Red, scaly skin on the breast, areola, or nipple
  • Nipple retraction 
  • Nipple discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes, or glands, in the armpit

Most males with breast cancer don't have any pain. However, don't assume a painful breast lump isn't cancer. It's always important to see your healthcare provider for an evaluation.

If breast cancer spreads to other areas of the body, it can cause additional symptoms, sometimes far away from the original cancer location. Cancer that has spread is called metastatic cancer.

Symptoms of metastatic cancer can include:

  • Pain or a fracture due to bone metastases
  • Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (due to liver metastases)
  • Headaches, one-sided weakness, or speech problems due to cancer spreading to the brain
  • Cough and shortness of breath if cancer spreads to the lungs

Diagnosis

Individuals with a family history of breast cancer can do a breast self-exam. This is an easy way to be aware of any breast changes.

If you notice any changes, your healthcare provider:

  • Will do a physical exam and take down your medical history
  • May do imaging tests like a mammogram or ultrasound
  • May refer you to a genetic counselor to test for genes that increase your risk of cancer

Summary

Males may experience breast pain and swelling. In many cases, the cause is not of major concern. However, breast pain and swelling may be symptoms of something more serious. You may have an injury, infection, or an underlying medical condition—including cancer.

Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you have any breast pain and swelling, or notice any other breast changes.

A Word From Verywell

Because breast problems are commonly associated with women, men may ignore them or feel embarrassed to report concerns to their healthcare provider. In many cases, the cause can easily be identified, and treatment may be simple.

However, in some cases, there may be a serious medical condition that requires attention from your healthcare team. Bringing your provider's attention to any physical or medical concerns may save your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you tell the difference between heart pain and breast pain?

    There are many different structures in the chest that can cause pain. However, pain in the chest area can be a sign of a medical emergency like a heart attack and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

  • What are the main differences between gynecomastia and breast cancer in males?

    Gynecomastia typically impacts both breasts in terms of swelling. Breast skin and nipples will not appear different. Breast cancer may cause swelling in one breast, impact the feeling of the breast tissue, and cause nipple and skin changes.

  • Is breast cancer in males life-threatening?

    It can be. The five-year survival rates for males with breast cancer range from 22% to 97%, depending on the disease stage. Other factors affect someone's prognosis, including overall health and advances in treatment.

  • When should I worry about breast pain or swelling?

    If you are experiencing pain, swelling, or any other breast changes, it's always best to bring it up to your healthcare provider. These symptoms might indicate breast cancer, or another health condition.

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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.
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Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
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