How can men 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.

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.

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.