When Should I See My Healthcare Provider About Male Breast Cancer
If you notice any symptoms of breast cancer, call your provider right away. Its essential to see your provider for an evaluation as early as possible. Early detection and treatment can greatly improve the prognosis.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Many men dont think breast cancer can happen to them. So they may not recognize signs when they appear. If you think something isnt right with your chest tissue, see your provider for an evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can have a significant impact on the long-term prognosis. Be honest with your provider about your symptoms and how long youve had them. If you have any risk factors for male breast cancer, talk to your provider about how you can reduce your risk.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/15/2021.
Symptoms Of Male Breast Cancer
The first sign of male breast cancer is usually a lump in the breast that feels like a hard knot or pebble. Since most men arent regularly checking their breasts and arent aware of the early warning signs of male breast cancer, it may take some time for them to notice a lump or other breast change and bring it to the attention of their doctor. While the majority of lumps are not breast cancer, its important to have any unusual changes to your breast, chest, or armpit checked by a doctor as soon as you can. When breast cancer is found early, its usually easier to treat successfully.
The signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men to watch out for include:
change in the size or shape of the breast
These changes can also can be signs of less serious conditions that are not cancer. Some benign breast conditions in men are:
Gynecomastia is an increase in the amount of breast tissue in males. It can involve swelling or overall enlargement of one or both breasts. Often, the first symptom is a lump of fatty tissue under the nipple that may be tender or sore.
Men can develop other types of abnormal lumps or masses of tissue in the breast that are not cancer and do not spread outside the breast. Some examples are lipomas , cysts , hematomas , and fat necrosis .
Again, be sure to see your doctor right away if you notice any abnormal change in the breast, chest, or armpit.
Male Breast Cancer Is A Disease In Which Malignant Cells Form In The Tissues Of The Breast
Breast cancer may occur in men. Breast cancer may occur in men at any age, but it usually occurs in men between 60 and 70 years of age. Male breast cancer makes up less than 1% of all cases of breast cancer.
The following types of breast cancer are found in men:
- Infiltrating ductal carcinoma: Cancer that has spread beyond thecells liningducts in the breast. This is the most common type of breast cancer in men.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ: Abnormal cells that are found in the lining of a duct also called intraductal carcinoma.
- Inflammatory breast cancer: A type of cancer in which the breast looks red and swollen and feels warm.
- Paget disease of the nipple: A tumor that has grown from ducts beneath the nipple onto the surface of the nipple.
Lobular carcinoma in situ , which sometimes occurs in women, has not been seen in men.
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About Breast Cancer In Men
Breast cancer is often thought of as a condition that only affects women, but men can also develop it.
It’s much less common in men than women.
The cancer develops in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples. The most common symptom is a hard, painless lump in one of the breasts.
However, the vast majority of breast lumps are caused by a condition called gynaecomastia. This is a common non-cancerous condition where male breast tissue becomes enlarged.
Breast cancer in men can also cause nipple problems, such as the nipple turning in on itself or nipple discharge.
Read more about preventing cancer
Genetics And Family History
A genetic mutation is a permanent alteration in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. The result is that one or more of the body’s processes may not work in the way they should.
There are a number of genetic mutations known to increase your risk of developing breast cancer. The most significant mutation identified is known as the BRCA2 mutation.
There’s also evidence that breast cancer can run in families, especially in men who have a first-degree relative who has developed breast cancer, such as a mother or sister.
Routine testing for the faulty genes that cause breast cancer in men isn’t usually carried out on the NHS, unless specifically requested by a specialist. However, some private clinics may offer gene testing. Tests can be expensive, with prices ranging from around £2,000 to £3,000.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
We know that age is the most important risk factor for breast cancer in men. Risk increases with age and most men who are diagnosed are over 60.
Risk is higher in those that have a genetic pre-disposition to breast cancer. For example, someone that has a significant family history of the disease or carries a gene that increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Speak to your GP if youre concerned about this.
People who are obese have higher levels of the hormone oestrogen in their body and this can play a part in the growth of breast cancer cells.
Chronic liver damage and some genetic conditions such as Klinefelters syndrome can also raise oestrogen levels and therefore risk.
Radiotherapy to the chest, for example to treat Hodgkins lymphoma, may slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
Family History And Genetics
Those who have close family members with breast cancer are at increased risk of developing the condition. Inheriting the breast cancer variants of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene increases the chance of developing breast cancer.
Variants in the CHEK2, PTEN, and PALB2 genes may also be associated with male breast cancer.
It’s estimated that roughly 20% of those assigned male at birth who develop breast cancer have an identifiable genetic risk factor, with BRCA2 mutations being the most common. Genetic testing for those diagnosed with breast cancer can be helpful for several reasons:
- To guide therapy with metastatic breast cancer
- To screen for other types of cancer
- To alert family members about their own potential risk for cancer
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What Are The Stages Of Male Breast Cancer
After diagnosing breast cancer, providers classify the disease using a process called staging. Providers measure the tumor and look at its location. They determine whether the tumor has spread to lymph nodes, surrounding breast tissue or other parts of your body. Lymph nodes are small organs that move fluid through the body and help protect you from illness.
The stages of male breast cancer are:
Stage 0: Cancer cells are only in the ducts. Cancer has not spread to other breast tissue.
Stage I: The tumor is small and hasnt spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage II: One of these is true:
- The tumor is smaller than 20 millimeters and has spread to a few axillary lymph nodes. Axillary nodes are lymph nodes in the armpit.
- The tumor is 20 mm to 50 mm across and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes . Or the tumor is 20 mm to 50 mm and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes .
- The tumor is larger than 50 mm and has not spread to a few axillary lymph nodes.
Stage III: Cancer has spread typically to several lymph nodes. Cancer cells may also be in the chest wall or skin. It has not spread to other areas of the body away from the breast.
Stage IV: Cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body away from the breast. Cancer can spread to all areas of the body, including the lungs, bones, liver or brain.
Types Of Breast Cancer In Men
Breast cancer types are separated into two main groups: invasive or in situ . All kinds of breast cancer fall under one of these categories.
- In situ : Whenbreast cancer is not invasive, its most likely ductal carcinoma in situ , a non-invasive type of breast cancer that starts in a duct and has not yet spread anywhere else.
- Invasive: Invasive breast cancer refers to any breast cancer that spreads from the original site and invades other areas, like nearby breast tissue, lymph nodes or anywhere else in the body.
About 80 percent of all male breast cancers are whats called invasive ductal carcinoma . IDC is a cancer that starts in a duct and grows into other parts of the breast.
Men can have several different types of breast cancer. While still rare, the most common types include:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ
- Invasive ductal carcinoma
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Pagets disease of the nipple
- Invasive lobular carcinoma
- Other subtypes of carcinomas in the male breast are possible, but extremely rare.
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Male Breast Cancer Is Sometimes Caused By Inherited Gene Mutations
The genes in cells carry the hereditary information that is received from a persons parents. Hereditary breast cancer makes up about 5% to 10% of all breast cancer. Some mutated genes related to breast cancer, such as BRCA2, are more common in certain ethnic groups.Men who have a mutated gene related to breast cancer have an increased risk of this disease.
History Of Cancer Treatment
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are associated with an increased risk of cancer. Radiation and chemotherapeutic medications are used to destroy cancer cells, but they can also cause alterations in normal cells, increasing the risk of disease and cancer.
While uncommon, there is a slight increase in secondary cancer among survivors who were treated for cancer.
Radiation therapy to the chest, such as in treatment for lymphoma, for example, is more likely to be associated with breast cancer than radiation to other areas of the body, such as the brain or abdomen.
Cancer treatment that alters hormone levels, such as estrogen therapy for prostate cancer and orchiectomy for testicular cancer, are also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in those assigned male at birth.
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Key Points About Breast Cancer In Men
- Though it’s rare, men can get breast cancer.
- The most common type of breast cancer in men is infiltrating ductal cancer. This is cancer that starts in milk ducts and spreads to nearby tissues.
- Common symptoms of breast cancer in men are a breast lump or swelling, changes in the skin over the breast, or a nipple that turns inward .
- The main treatment for male breast cancer is surgery. The most common surgery is a mastectomy, which removes the breast tissue.
Lobular Carcinoma In Situ
Lobular carcinoma in situ may also be called lobular neoplasia. In LCIS, cells that look like cancer cells are growing in the lobules of the milk-producing glands of the breast, but they havent grown through the wall of the lobules. LCIS is not a true pre-invasive cancer because it does not turn into an invasive cancer if left untreated, but it is linked to an increased risk of invasive cancer in both breasts. LCIS is rarely, if ever seen in men.
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Diagnosing Male Breast Cancer
Diagnosing male breast cancer starts with providing a complete personal and family medical history, describing your symptoms and being examined by your doctor.
After that, you may have screening with one of a few possible technologies, including a diagnostic mammogram, a breast ultrasound, a magnetic resonance imaging scan and/or possibly a test to study your nipple discharge.
Your doctor may also test your blood chemistry to look for unusual amounts of a substance that might suggest disease.
If your diagnostic tests show you may have cancer, the next step is a biopsy. A variety of different biopsies can involve removing cells through a needle, including fine-needle aspiration or core needle biopsy, or removing the whole lump or part of the suspicious area through surgery.
If cancer is found, additional tests will help your doctor know how quickly it may grow, how likely it is to spread or recur and what treatments may be the most appropriate.
Those would include:
- An estrogen and progesterone receptor test that measure the amount of these receptors in the cancer
- A HER2 test to measure the presence and level of HER2 protein
Men tend to be diagnosed with breast cancers that are hormone receptor-positive and HER2-negative.
The spread of cancer from breast to lymph nodes and other parts of the body in men appears to be similar to what women experience.
The stage of breast cancer is determined by your care team based on:
How Is Breast Cancer In Men Staged
The stage of a cancer is tells your doctor how much and how far it has spread in your body. It’s one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.
The staging system for male breast cancer is the same as the staging system for female breast cancer. It includes the size of the cancer and whether lymph nodes have cancer cells in them. It also includes details about whether the cancer cells have certain proteins and how much they look like normal cells .
The stage is based on a 0 to 4 scale. It uses Roman numerals I , II , III , and IV . Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ. The cancer is small and only in the place where it first started. Stage IV means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about what your cancer stage means and how it affects your treatment options. Ask any questions or talk about your concerns.
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Can Male Breast Cancer Be Cured
Male breast cancer can be treated successfully. 85% of men who are diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia will live for five years or more after their breast cancer is first diagnosed.
However, if cancer has spread from the breast to other parts of the body, it often becomes more difficult to treat. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is called secondary, advanced or metastatic breast cancer. You may also hear it referred to as stage 4 breast cancer.
Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer can be confronting and devastating. While there is currently no cure for metastatic breast cancer, it is possible control it with treatment sometimes for many years. Treatment for metastatic breast cancer aims to control the growth and spread of the cancer, relieve symptoms and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible.
NBCF is committed to Zero Deaths from breast cancer for both male and female patients. Learn more about our funded projects investigating different ways to improve breast cancer treatment here.
Family Members With Breast Cancer Or A Breast Cancer Gene
Men who have female relatives with breast cancer have an increased risk of breast cancer, especially if the women are close relatives . The risk also increases if the women were diagnosed at a young age . Men, as well as women, can inherit faulty genes that increase the risk of breast cancer.
Around 2 in 100 breast cancers diagnosed in women are thought to be due directly to an inherited faulty gene . In men, this might be more common. Doctors think that around 5 to 10 out of 100 breast cancers diagnosed in men are due to inherited faulty genes . In men with breast cancer, changes in the BRCA2 faulty gene are more common than BRCA1.
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How Breast Cancer Spreads
Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system and are carried to other parts of the body.
The lymph system is a network of lymph vessels found throughout the body. The lymph vessels carry lymph fluid and connect lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped collections of immune system cells. Lymph vessels are like small veins, except that they carry a clear fluid called lymph away from the breast. Lymph contains tissue fluid and waste products, as well as immune system cells. Breast cancer cells can enter lymph vessels and start to grow in lymph nodes. Most of the lymph vessels of the breast drain into:
- Lymph nodes under the arm
- Lymph nodes around the collar bone
- Lymph nodes inside the chest near the breast bone
If the cancer cells have spread to your lymph nodes, there is a higher chance that the cells could have also traveled through the lymph system and spread to other parts of your body. The more lymph nodes with breast cancer cells, the more likely it is that the cancer may be found in other organs. Because of this, finding cancer in one or more lymph nodes often affects your treatment plan. Usually, surgery to remove one or more lymph nodes will be needed to know whether the cancer has spread.
Still, not all men with cancer cells in their lymph nodes develop metastases to other areas, and some men can have no cancer cells in their lymph nodes and later develop metastases.