Although rare, approximately 2,500 new cases of male breast cancer are diagnosed every year (compared to 250,000 yearly diagnoses for women). Men, like women, have breast tissue and cells which can develop cancer. More than 500 men die each year from breast cancer.
Male breast cancer accounts for less than one percent of all breast cancer cases, however, the five-year survival of men with breast cancer is lower than that of women. This lower survival rate may be due to believing that breast cancer affects only women, ignoring symptoms of male breast cancer and failing to get tested. Treatments tend to be less effective when men fail to get tested or pay attention to the possible signs of male breast cancer, and delay treatment.
Most cases of male breast cancer occur in men older than age 50, where the risk of a man developing breast cancer is less than 1 in 1,000.
Breast cancer symptoms are similar for both men and women. Some of the other common symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump or thickening around the breast or underarm. This can include a mass, skin irritation, or swelling.
- A variation in the size or shape of the breast
- A variation in the color or feel of the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple. This can include puckered, swollen, scaly, red or dimpled skin.
- Nipple discharge, erosion, inversion, or tenderness
It is important to consult a physician when you notice any changes in your breasts.
Men and women not only share common symptoms of breast cancer but some general risk factors as well. The most common risk factors for breast cancer include:
- A mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer
- Two or more close relatives with breast and/or ovarian cancer, especially relatives who have an alteration in the BRCA2 mutation
- Breast cancer in a close male relative
- A breast biopsy showing atypical cells or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
- Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer
- Known or suspected genetic mutations
- Prior radiation to the neck or chest
Men have some additional risk factors for breast cancer. These additional risk factors include:
- A condition that lower testicular function (inflammation of or injury to the testes, undescended testes)
- Gynecomastia (abnormal enlargement of the breast in men)
- A disease related to high levels of estrogen in the body, such as cirrhosis (liver disease) or Klinefelter’s syndrome (a genetic disorder)
Diagnosing Male Breast Cancer
There are various tests and procedures doctors may use to diagnose male breast cancer. Men with breast cancer typically have lumps that can be felt, doctors often do biopsies to detect cancer. A biopsy is the removal of tissue or fluid.
The types of biopsies are:
- Needle biopsy: The doctor uses a thin needle to remove part of a lump, tissue or fluid. This procedure is also called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.
- Core biopsy: The doctor uses a wide needle to remove part of a lump or some tissue.
- Excisional biopsy: The doctor removes an entire lump or mass of tissue.
After the tissue or fluid is removed, a doctor in a lab can test it for cancer.
The Rare Cancers Program
For many rare cancers, including male breast cancer, there is little research about their causes, early detection, or best treatments. As a result, rare cancers can be hard to diagnose quickly or accurately, treatment options may be limited, and information and support resources can be scarce.
The comprehensive Rare Cancers Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper provides unparalleled depth and breadth of rare-cancer expertise. This means you have one-stop access to an entire team of rare-cancer experts who are up to date on research, accurate diagnostic methods, and advanced treatment options.
The multidisciplinary team approach to diagnosing and treating rare cancers at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper includes medical, radiation and surgical oncologists, pathologists, diagnostic imaging experts, and other specialists in specific types of cancer, including orthopedic, gastrointestinal, head and neck (including ear, nose and throat), neurologic, genitourinary, gynecologic, breast, esophageal and melanoma.
The Rare Cancers Program also offers a wealth of current information and compassionate support resources, all focused on giving you a high level of personalized, attentive care and guidance.