Breast Cancer in Men

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a growth of abnormal cells in the breast. Men have a very small amount of breast tissue right under the nipple. This breast tissue can develop cancer, just like a woman’s breast. However, breast cancer in men is rare.

The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your chances for recovery. However, even advanced cancer can usually be treated. Treatment may slow or stop the growth of the cancer and ease symptoms for a time. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the type of cancer that you have.

What is the cause?

The cause of breast cancer is not known. You may have a higher risk of breast cancer if you:

  • Are over age 50
  • Have had breast cancer or some non-cancerous breast diseases
  • Have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer (especially mother, sister, or daughter, but also from other relatives on either your father’s or mother’s side)
  • Have mutations in certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • Had radiation therapy to the chest
  • Drink alcohol (risk rises as intake increases)
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Do not get regular exercise

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Breast lump
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Change in nipple shape or appearance
  • Scaly rash on the nipple

All breast signs or symptoms that last more than a few days need to be checked by your healthcare provider.

What is metastasis?

The spread of cancer cells from one part of the body to other parts is called metastasis. What causes cancer to spread is not known. Cancer cells can:

  • Grow into the area around the tumor
  • Travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system. The lymph system is part of your body’s system for fighting infection. The lymph system consists of lymph nodes that store blood cells (lymphocytes) to fight infection and vessels that carry fluid, nutrients, and wastes between your body and your bloodstream.

New tumors then grow in these other areas. When breast cancer spreads, it is most often found in the bones of the pelvis, spine, upper arms and legs, ribs, and skull. Tumors are also commonly found in the liver, lungs, and brain.

Sometimes your first symptoms of cancer are in the part of the body where the cancer has spread. The symptoms of breast cancer that has spread to another part of your body depend on where the tumors are. For example,

  • If the cancer has spread to the lungs, you may have a cough or trouble breathing.
  • If the cancer has spread to the liver, you may have yellowish skin, pain, or swelling in your belly.
  • If the cancer has spread to the bones, you may have pain or your bones may break easily.
  • If the cancer has spread to the brain, you may have trouble thinking, speaking, or walking.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have tests such as:

  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the breast tissue
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the breast tissue
  • Mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast to look for cancer or to check a lump felt in the breast.
  • Breast biopsy, which is the removal of a small sample of tissue for testing. The tissue is examined for the presence of cancer.

If you have discharge from a nipple, some of the discharge can be placed on a microscope slide and examined for cancer cells.

How is it treated?

You and your healthcare provider will discuss possible treatments. You may also talk with a surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. Oncologists are cancer specialists.

Some things to think about when making treatment decisions are:

Your age

  • The stage of the cancer (how advanced the cancer is)
  • The effect of hormones on the cancer
  • The type of breast cancer
  • Whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of your body

Possible treatments are:

  • Surgery to remove the nipple, all breast tissue, and some of the lymph nodes in the armpit
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells
  • Hormone therapy, which uses medicine to stop hormones in your body from helping tumors grow. Men who have breast cancer should never take male hormones, like testosterone. However, the anti-estrogens used in treating female breast cancer are safe.
  • Biological therapy, which uses medicine designed to help your immune system fight the cancer or block the growth of cancer cells

Often, more than 1 type of treatment is used.

How can I take care of myself?

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer:

  • Talk about your cancer and treatment options with your healthcare provider. Make sure you understand your choices.
  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Ask your healthcare provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

Other things that may help include:

  • Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise as recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Keep a healthy weight. Men who are very overweight may be at risk for breast cancer. Fat cells change male hormones into female hormones, which means very overweight men have more estrogen in their body. Estrogen helps breast cancer grow.
  • Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol. It may interfere with medicines you are taking. Alcohol can also make it harder for white blood cells to fight infections.
  • Try to reduce stress and take time for activities that you enjoy. It may help to talk with a counselor about your illness.
  • Talk with your family and your healthcare providers about your concerns. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have about the disease, treatments, side effects of the treatments, sexuality, support groups, and anything else that concerns you.
  • Tell your provider if your treatment causes discomfort. Usually there are ways to help you be more comfortable.

How can I help prevent the cancer from spreading or coming back?

  • Complete the full course of radiation, hormone, or chemotherapy treatments recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Consider genetic screening for BRCA mutations if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • See your healthcare provider right away if you notice a return of any previous signs or symptoms or develop any new ones.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-29
Last reviewed: 2014-03-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

Our Patient Portal provides safe and secure online access to better communicate with your Tufts Medical Center Community Care doctor. This easy-to-use web tool is a convenient way to book appointments, request referrals, renew prescriptions, view medical records/test results and communicate with your healthcare provider from the privacy of your own computer.

PATIENT PORTAL >