Breast cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in one or both breasts. Breast cancer in men develops in the small amount of breast tissue found behind a man's nipple. It is often a type called invasive ductal carcinoma.
What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?
The most common symptom of male breast cancer is a painless lump or swelling behind the nipple. Other symptoms can include a discharge from the nipple or a lump or thickening in the armpit.
Most men diagnosed with breast cancer are older than 65. But breast cancer can appear in younger men. For this reason, any breast lump in an adult male is thought to be abnormal and should be checked out by a doctor.
What causes male breast cancer?
The exact cause of breast cancer isn't known. But most experts agree that some men have a greater risk for breast cancer than others. Male breast cancer mostly affects older men.
Things that increase a man's risk of breast cancer include:
- Radiation exposure.
- Family history of breast cancer in his female relatives.
- Inheriting gene mutations, such as BRCA.
- Having a genetic condition called Klinefelter syndrome or a liver disease (cirrhosis).
How is male breast cancer diagnosed?
Most male breast cancer is diagnosed with a biopsy. A lump or thickening in the breast or armpit may first be checked with a mammogram or an ultrasound. If either of these tests show signs of cancer, a biopsy will likely be done to see if there is cancer.
There is no routine screening for breast cancer in men. And a breast lump doesn't usually cause pain. That's why breast cancer sometimes isn't found until it has spread to another area of the body and is causing other symptoms.
How is male breast cancer treated?
The main treatment for male breast cancer is modified radical mastectomy. This is surgery to remove the breast and the lymph nodes under the arm (axillary lymph nodes). In some cases, breast-conserving surgery is possible.
There hasn't been much research on breast cancer treatments in men, because male breast cancer is so uncommon. But breast cancer in men is similar to breast cancer in women, and some of the same treatments may be used. These include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.
Chemotherapy may be used after surgery. It can reduce the chance that breast cancer will come back somewhere else in the body. Most male breast cancer has estrogen and progesterone receptors. With this type of cancer, treatment may also include medicines, such as tamoxifen.
If you have male breast cancer, your doctor may suggest that you see a cancer genetics specialist to talk about genetic testing.
Male breast cancer is rare. For this reason, many experts encourage men with breast cancer to talk to their doctors about clinical trials. These trials keep looking for better ways to treat male breast cancer.