Breast cancer in men is a rare disease. Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. In 2016, about 2,600 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
Wait, men don’t have breasts like women, so how do they get breast cancer? The “breasts” of an adult man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty. In girls, this tissue grows and develops, but in men, it doesn’t. But because it is still breast tissue, men can get breast cancer. Men get the same types of breast cancers that women do, but cancers involving the parts that make and store milk are rare.
Who Is at Risk?
Most breast cancers happen to men between ages 60 and 70. Other risk factors of male breast cancer include:
- Breast cancer in a close female relative.
- Previous radiation treatment to the chest increases your risk.
- History of radiation exposure of the chest.
- Enlargement of breasts (called gynecomastia) from drug or hormone treatments, or even some infections and poisons.
- Taking estrogen.
- A rare genetic condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome.
- Severe liver disease (called cirrhosis).
- Diseases of the testicles such as mumpsorchitis, a testicular injury, or an undescended testicle.
What Are The Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men?
The symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those in women. These include:
- A breast lump that you can see or feel
- An enlargement of one breast
- Nipple pain
- Discharge from the nipple
- Sores on the nipple or areola
- An inverted nipple
- Enlarged underarm lymph nodes
The good news is that treatment and survival rates are largely the same for men as for women. The five-year relative survival rate for male breast cancer is 84 percent. The 10-year relative survival rate is 72 percent. These are only averages, though. Breast cancer also tends to be diagnosed later in men than in women.
Where the difference lies is in diagnosis and screening. As Marleen Meyers, an assistant professor of medical oncology with NYU Langone Medical Center told U.S. News and World Report last year, men don’t undergo routine breast cancer screenings. “They only seek medical attention when they feel a lump, whereas women have routine screenings and get it identified earlier,” Meyers said. “By the time men come in, the tumor is usually at least 1 centimeter in size, and the cancer has often spread.”
Because male breast cancer is so rare, experts don’t see much benefit in general-population screenings, such as mammograms, according to the American Cancer Society.
As always, if you experience any of the symptoms associated with breast cancer, see your doctor right away and get evaluated. Regardless whether you are a man or woman, the best way to fight breast cancer is through awareness and early detection.
Bottom line: Less than 1% of breast cancer occurs in men, but men can and do get breast cancer. Although men do not require yearly screening mammograms, awareness of the signs and symptoms can lead to early detection and improved survival.
About the author: Raja P. Reddy, MD is a board certified diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast imaging. He is also a contributing editor for Digital Mammography Specialists, a leading provider of outpatient women’s imaging services in the greater Atlanta, GA.