Can men get breast cancer?

It’s predicted that in 2020, 167 Australian men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 33 men will die from it.

Men tend to be diagnosed with breast cancer at an advanced stage, which influences treatment and survival. So it’s important to know the symptoms of breast cancer and how to keep an eye out for them.


What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?

Male breast cancer affects the breast tissue that is located behind the nipple. Most often, breast cancer occurs in only one breast. Breast cancer on both sides is very rare (fewer than 1% of men with breast cancer).

The most common symptoms of male breast cancer include:

  • Retraction of the nipple
  • A lump behind the nipple
  • Thickening of breast tissue
  • Dimpling of the skin around the nipple
  • A discharge from the nipple
  • Pain in the breast tissue
  • A change in the shape of the breast or nipple.

Swelling or soreness in the armpit can be a symptom of breast cancer that has spread.


What things make it more likely for males to get breast cancer?

Some of the most common risk factors for male breast cancer include:

  • Ageing: Male breast cancer is most likely to be diagnosed in men over the age of 60
  • Family history: There’s a higher chance of developing breast cancer if you have a close family member who has been diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Exposure to oestrogen: Oestrogen-related hormone therapy, which is often used for prostate cancer, may increase the risk of breast cancer
  • Klinefelter syndrome: people with Klinefelter syndrome have relatively high oestrogen levels which increases the risk of breast cancer in men
  • Liver disease, obesity and testicular problems, such as orchitis or injury, increase estrogen levels in men, which increases the risk of breast cancer.

Although these factors make it more likely that you will get breast cancer, the overall risk is still very low. Most men with these risk factors will not get breast cancer, and men without any of these risk factors can develop it.


What are the treatments for male breast cancer?

Treatment options for male breast cancer include:

  • Surgery: The most common treatment for breast cancer is surgical removal of the breast (mastectomy). Usually, the entire breast including the nipple will be removed in a mastectomy
  • Radiotherapy (radiation therapy): Radiotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that is sometimes recommended after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that kills or slows the growth of cancer cells and is sometimes recommended after surgery
  • Targeted therapies: Targeted therapies are drugs that are used to treat certain types of breast cancer. Targeted therapies are often used in combination with chemotherapy.


Screening for male breast cancer

Because the condition is so uncommon, breast cancer screening for men isn’t currently recommended in Australia.

If you have a very strong family history of breast cancer, your doctor may suggest that you undergo genetic testing. It’s important that you speak with your doctor about this type of testing, so you fully understand what it can and can’t tell you, as well as the best course of action for what happens if you take the test.


If you’re concerned about symptoms of breast cancer you should see your doctor as soon as possible. If  some of the risk factors sound familiar to you, having a talk with your doctor may be a good idea.


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