Men don't have breasts. How can they get breast cancer?

Even though men do not have breasts like women, they do have a small amount of breast tissue. In fact, the "breasts" of an adult man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty, and consist of a few ducts surrounded by fat and other tissue. In girls, this tissue grows and develops in response to female hormones, but in men -- who do not secrete the same amounts of these hormones -- this tissue does not develop.

However, because it is still breast tissue, men can develop breast cancer. In fact, men get the same types of breast cancers that women do, although cancers involving the milk-producing and storing regions of the breast are very rare.

Why do I not hear about breast cancer in men as much as I hear about breast cancer in women?

Breast cancer in men is a rare disease. This is possibly due to their smaller amount of breast tissue and the fact that men produce smaller amounts of hormones like estrogen that are known to affect breast cancers in women. A man’s lifetime risk for breast cancer is around 1 in 1,000.

Which men are more likely to get breast cancer?

It is very rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer. Breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed in men between ages 60 and 70.

What are other risks for male breast cancer?

The risk of breast cancer may increase if a man has a history of one or more of the following:

  • A first degree relative with breast cancer
  • A genetic mutation such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, PTEN and CHEK2
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome (a rare genetic disease present at birth) due to the associated gynecomastia and increased circulating estrogen levels
  • Chest irradiation (as in Hodgkins’ Lymphoma)
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Estrogen therapy (for prostate cancer)
  • Obesity

Beyond that, African-American men appear to be at greater risk than Caucasian men. In some places in Africa, breast cancer in men is much more common.

How serious is breast cancer in men?

Doctors used to think that breast cancer in men was more severe than in women, but it now seems that for comparably advanced breast cancers, men and women have similar outcomes.

The major problem is that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. In many cases, the cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes in a large number of men.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?

Symptoms are very similar to those in women. Most male breast cancers are diagnosed when a man discovers a lump on his chest. However, unlike women, men tend to go to the doctor with more severe symptoms that often include bleeding from the nipple and abnormalities of the skin in the area just above the cancer.

How is breast cancer diagnosed and treated in men?

The same techniques that are used to diagnose breast cancer in women are also used in men. These include physical exams, mammograms, and biopsies (examining small samples of the tissue and checking them under a microscope).

The same four treatments that are used in treating breast cancer in women -- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormones -- are also used to treat the disease in men. Mastectomy is the recommended surgery in men.

Many breast cancers in men have hormone receptors, that is, they have specific sites on the cancer cells where specific hormones like estrogen can act. Therefore, hormonal treatment in men is likely to be effective for treatment of breast cancer.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/11/2014...#9011