Breast cancer in men
While breast cancer more commonly affects women, it can happen in men, too. Here are some signs and symptoms to watch for to detect it earlier, when it’s most treatable.
Think breast cancer only affects women? Think again. It’s rare, but breast cancer can affect men, too. In fact, about 1 percent of all cases of breast cancer in the United States occur in men. This percentage may seem small, but over 2,000 new cases of breast cancer in men are expected to be diagnosed in 2020.
“Some men don’t even know they can develop breast cancer,” says Nicole (Sharp) Cottrell, MD, breast surgeon at Geisinger. “Because of this, they may not notice a change in their ‘breast’ or chest area, which can delay diagnosis and treatment.”
Breast cancer in men: How does it happen?
Both men and women are born with breast tissue. However, during puberty, women develop more breast tissue, while men don’t. But because men have this breast tissue, they can develop breast cancer.
“The main concern is that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than in women, because men tend to be less suspicious about a change or lump in their chest,” Dr. Cottrell says. “That’s why it’s important to know your risk factors and the warning signs.”
What are the risk factors?
Certain factors can increase a man’s risk of developing breast cancer. These include:
- Age: Breast cancer is often diagnosed in men age 60 or older.
- Family history: You’re more likely to develop breast cancer if you have a family member who has (or had) breast cancer. Also, having a genetic condition, like a change in the BRCA2 gene, can increase your risk.
- Obesity: Being overweight is linked to higher levels of estrogen in the body, which can increase your risk for developing breast cancer.
- Taking estrogen-related drugs: Some drugs used for hormone therapy in the treatment of prostate cancer may increase your risk.
- Klinefelter's syndrome: This genetic condition causes abnormal development of the testicles. Men with this condition produce more estrogen in their bodies.
- Liver disease: Certain conditions that affect the liver, like cirrhosis of the liver, can increase the amount of estrogen in your body.
“If you have any of these risk factors, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about them,” says Dr. Cottrell. “And it’s equally important to keep an eye out for the warning signs of breast cancer in men.”
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men
Breast cancer can happen to anyone, but with early detection it’s highly treatable. “Like women, men should examine their chest area and nipples for any changes,” explains Dr. Cottrell. “If you notice any of these signs, you should see your doctor right away.”
Signs of breast cancer in men can include:
- A (usually painless) lump in your breast, chest or underarm area, or thickening in your breast tissue
- Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin on your breast
- Changes to your nipple, including redness, scaling or a rash
- A nipple that begins to turn inward or discharge from the nipple
What to do if you spot a sign of breast cancer
Experiencing a change in your breast area or nipple doesn’t automatically mean you have breast cancer, but it’s a good idea to get checked out. “Men can also experience benign (or non-cancerous) breast conditions, like gynecomastia (or increase in breast tissue),” says Dr. Cottrell.
While rare, breast cancer in men does happen. And you can increase your chances of beating it by reporting any changes or signs to your doctor, so you can get diagnosed and treated right away.
Think men don’t get cancer? Larry did. Read his story.
Get your free guide to breast health at home.
Learn more about breast cancer.