What Is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of breast cells. To better understand breast cancer, it helps to understand how any cancer can develop.
Cancer occurs as a result of mutations, or abnormal changes, in the genes responsible for regulating the growth of cells and keeping them healthy. The genes are in each cells nucleus, which acts as the control room of each cell. Normally, the cells in our bodies replace themselves through an orderly process of cell growth: healthy new cells take over as old ones die out. But over time, mutations can turn on certain genes and turn off others in a cell. That changed cell gains the ability to keep dividing without control or order, producing more cells just like it and forming a tumor.
A tumor can be benign or malignant . Benign tumors are not considered cancerous: their cells are close to normal in appearance, they grow slowly, and they do not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors are cancerous. Left unchecked, malignant cells eventually can spread beyond the original tumor to other parts of the body.
Over time, cancer cells can invade nearby healthy breast tissue and make their way into the underarm lymph nodes, small organs that filter out foreign substances in the body. If cancer cells get into the lymph nodes, they then have a pathway into other parts of the body. The breast cancers stage refers to how far the cancer cells have spread beyond the original tumor .
What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer In Men
Because men dont have regular mammogram scans like women, physical signs of breast cancer are often the first indication a man notices. The most common symptoms of breast cancer in men include:
- Breast lump: A thickened area, lump or mass may grow on the breast, behind the nipple or in the armpit.
- Change in appearance: The breast tissue may look larger, puckered, misshapen or sunken. There may be a dimple or several small divots or pits, like the skin of an orange.
- Pain: You may have tenderness, sensitivity or pain in the breast tissue or underarm area. Instead, you may have a painless lump in the breast or armpit.
- Problems with the nipple: Clear fluid or bloody liquid may come out of the nipple. An inverted nipple can be another sign of breast cancer.
- Skin changes: Red, flaky or scaly skin may appear anywhere on the breast or nipple area. You may see ulcers on the skin.
Early Signs Of Breast Cancer
Pinpointing breast cancer in its earliest stages isnt easy because breast cancer signs and symptoms are different for everyone. Sometimes there is a palpable lump or tenderness. Very often, there is neither. Generally, breast cancer shows no symptoms in the early stage.
However, there are certain changes in the breast that may indicate breast cancer in both men and women.
Whether you are a man or a woman, its important to become familiar with your breasts so you can recognize when changes occur and seek timely treatment. Know the facts and understand your risk factors for the disease, such as genetics and family history, by reviewing these frequently asked questions.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Everyone wants to know what they can do to lower their risk of breast cancer. Some of the factors associated with breast cancer being a woman, your age, and your genetics, for example can’t be changed. Other factors being overweight, lack of exercise, smoking cigarettes, and eating unhealthy food can be changed by making choices. By choosing the healthiest lifestyle options possible, you can empower yourself and make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible.
The known risk factors for breast cancer are listed below. Click on each link to learn more about the risk factor and ways you can minimize it in your own life. If a factor can’t be changed , you can learn about protective steps you can take that can help keep your risk as low as possible.
Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer In Men
Possible symptoms of breast cancer to watch for include:
- A lump or swelling, which is often painless
- Skin dimpling or puckering
- Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
- Discharge from the nipple
Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.
These changes aren’t always caused by cancer, but if you notice any breast changes, you should see a health care professional as soon as possible.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Burstein HJ, Harris JR, Morrow M. Ch. 79 – Malignant tumors of the breast. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’sCancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2015.
Morrow M. Chapter 3: Physical Exam of the Breast. In: Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK, eds. Diseases of the Breast. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health 2014.
Wolff AC, Domchek SM, Davidson NE et al. Ch 91 – Cancer of the Breast. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloffs Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier: 2014.
Last Revised: April 27, 2018
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Fluid Discharge From The Nipple
Nipple discharge is when the nipple secretes fluid, including blood. Per a study published in the Journal of Cellular Immunotherapy, nipple discharge is among the three most commonly-reported symptoms of breast cancer in men. Discharge may occur in one or both nipples and may appear bloody, clear, milky, or green-tinged.
What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk
If several members of your family have had breast or ovarian cancer, or one of your family members has a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, share this information with your doctor. Your doctor may refer you for genetic counseling. In men, mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can increase the risk of breast cancer, high-grade prostate cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
As a neurosurgeon, Don knew everything in life and in surgery is all risk versus benefit. After discovering his family history of breast cancer, he took responsibility for his own health by getting tested and later having an elective mastectomy.
How Long Can You Have Breast Cancer Without Knowing
Breast cancer has to divide 30 times before it can be felt. Up to the 28th cell division, neither you nor your doctor can detect it by hand. With most breast cancers, each division takes one to two months, so by the time you can feel a cancerous lump, the cancer has been in your body for two to five years.
Why Does Breast Cancer Affect Men
Everyone, of all genders, is born with small amounts of breast tissue. Breast tissue consists of fat, milk-producing glands , and ducts that carry milk to the nipples. However during puberty, women begin developing more breast tissue, while men do not. The small amount of breast tissue men have is at risk for breast cancer, for many of the same reasons women are susceptible to it.
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Living With Male Breast Cancer
The process to diagnose and treat cancer can be long and frustrating. Most treatments are invasive and cause side effects. Medicines help counter these, but effects can be long lasting. You likely will need to make changes to your lifestyle.
After treatment, your cancer may subside. Remission can be brief or permanent. Cancer survivors usually require ongoing care. This can include testing and treatment to monitor and manage their health.
Living with cancer is emotional. You might consider joining a support group. Your doctor also might suggest rehabilitation to help with physical and life changes.
Having a male family member with breast cancer is a trigger for genetic testing and counseling. After receiving your diagnosis, a genetic counselor can help you determine if members of your family should be tested for mutations in the BRCA gene. Abnormalities in the BRCA gene cause forms of breast and ovarian cancer.
Genetic Testing In Men With Or At Risk For Breast Cancer
Breast cancer in men is sometimes caused by inherited mutations in certain genes. You can inherit gene mutations from your mother or your father and can potentially pass them on to your sons and daughters.
The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is approximately 1% for men who have a BRCA1 gene mutation and 7-8% for men who have a BRCA2 gene mutation, compared to a risk of 0.1% for men in the general population. Mutations in the ATM, CHEK2, PALB2, and other genes are also associated with breast cancer in men, but more research is needed to understand the specific risks from those genes.
According to guidelines from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, all men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer should be offered genetic counseling and genetic testing for genetic mutations linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.
Men who havent been diagnosed with breast cancer but who have a family history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic, or prostate cancer, or who have a family member who was found to have an inherited gene mutation that increases the risk of cancer, should also consider getting genetic testing.
Here are some of the reasons its useful for you and your medical team to know if you have a gene mutation linked to a higher risk of breast cancer:
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.
Treatments For Breast Cancer In Men
The treatment for breast cancer in men depends on how far the cancer has spread.
Possible treatments include:
- surgery to remove the affected breast tissue and nipple and some of the glands in your armpit
- radiotherapy where radiation is used to kill cancer cells
- chemotherapy where cancer medicine is used to kill cancer cells
- other medicines that help stop breast cancer growing including tamoxifen and trastuzumab
Many men have surgery followed by 1 or more of the other treatments. This can help stop the cancer coming back in the future.
Read more about treatments for breast cancer in men.
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Breast Or Nipple Changes
A lump doesnât mean you have breast cancer. But get a new one checked out, especially if it sticks around for longer than a couple of weeks.
Other symptoms to watch out for include:
- A swollen breast
- Lump in your armpit or collarbone
- Nipple discharge, either bloody or clear
- Nipples that point inward
- Skin that looks like an orange peel
- Breast or nipple pain
- Red, itchy, or thick nipple or breast skin
Some experts think itâs a good idea to check your breasts and underarms once a month. Others disagree. Your doctor can help you decide if that’s right for you. Theyâll also tell you how often you need a mammogram. Thatâs an X-ray that looks for changes in your breast tissue.
If The Cancer Has Spread Beyond The Breast
Some men are diagnosed with cancer that has already spread. Or the cancer might come back and spread some time after treatment. This is called secondary breast cancer, advanced breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer.
In this situation your doctor might recommend:
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How To Prevent Breast Cancer
While there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, there are some things you can do to lower your risk.
- Maintain a healthy weight and eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated and trans fats may help lower your risk of breast cancer.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity has been linked with a lower risk of breast cancer.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than one drink per day.
- Dont smoke. Cigarette smoking is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer. If you dont smoke, dont start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk of breast cancer.
- Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollutants. Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as that from mammograms, is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer.Limit your exposure to environmental pollutants, such as those found in certain cosmetics, by reading product labels and choosing products that are low in toxins.
Consider taking a low-dose aspirin daily. Some research suggests that taking a low-dose aspirin every day may reduce the risk of breast cancer. However, aspirin can have side effects, so speak with your doctor before starting this or any other medication.
Common Kinds Of Breast Cancer In Men
About 1 out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in this country is found in a man.
The most common kinds of breast cancer in men are the same kinds found in women:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma. Cancer cells originate in the breast ducts and then grow outside the ducts in other parts of the breast tissue. These Invasive cancer cells can also spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer cells begin in the lobules and then spread from the lobules to the adjacent breast tissue. These invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ is a breast disease that may lead to invasive breast cancer. The cancer cells are only in the duct lining, and have not spread to other breast tissues.
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What Are The Treatments For Male Breast Cancer
Male breast cancer treatment depends on the type and stage of the disease. Your team of providers will discuss your options with you. Your medical history will help guide what treatment is best for you. Treatments include:
- Surgery: During breast cancer surgery, your provider removes as much of the tumor as possible. You may need a lumpectomy or a mastectomy . Because men have limited breast tissue, mastectomy is more commonly done. You may also need surgery to remove lymph nodes.
- Radiation: Your provider uses targeted radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. Radiation for breast cancer usually follows surgery .
- Chemotherapy : Your provider delivers chemotherapy drugs into a vein, usually through an infusion. You might also take oral chemotherapy pills . These medications kill cancer cells and stop them from multiplying. You may receive chemo treatments over several weeks or months.
- Hormone therapy : Your provider prescribes medications that affect your hormones. These drugs may lower levels of estrogen or block the effects of estrogen. Providers usually use hormone therapy to treat women with breast cancer, but it can be an effective treatment for men, too. These medications treat breast cancers that use hormones to grow. Hormone therapy can be given in the form of pills and/or injections.
- Medications: Several medications kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. Your provider will discuss these medications with you. These may include medications called targeted therapy.
How Is Breast Cancer Similar In Both Men And Women
Both men and women may have breast cancer cells in the lymph nodes. The patterns of the spread of cancer are similar. The staging system for male breast cancer is the same as the staging system for female breast cancer. Breast cancer in both men and women are assessed in the same way to determine the prognosis. This includes the size of the lesion and whether or not lymph nodes have cancer cells. These factors affect the choice and outcome of treatment. Overall survival rates are similar in both men and women with breast cancer. Although male breast cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage.
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Causes Of Breast Cancer In Men
The exact cause of breast cancer in men is not known, but there are some things that increase your risk of getting it.
- genes and family history inheriting faulty versions of genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases your risk of breast cancer
- conditions that can increase the level of oestrogen in the body including obesity, Klinefelter syndrome and scarring of the liver
- previous radiotherapy to the chest area
It’s not certain that you can do anything to reduce your risk, but eating a balanced diet, losing weight if you’re overweight and not drinking too much alcohol may help.
Page last reviewed: 18 March 2020 Next review due: 18 March 2023