Even though men don’t have breasts like women, they do have a small amount of breast tissue. 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.
Which Men Are More Likely to Get Breast Cancer?
It is rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer. The chance of a man getting breast cancer goes up with age. Most breast cancers happen to men between the ages of 60 and 70. Other risk factors of male breast cancer include:
- Breast cancer in a close female relative
- 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 mumps orchitis, a testicular injury, or an undescended testicle
How Serious Is Breast Cancer in Men?
Doctors used to think that breast cancer in men was more severe than it was in women, but it now seems that it’s about the same.
The major problem is that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. This may be because men are less likely to be suspicious of something strange in that area. Also, their small amount of breast tissue is harder to feel, making it harder to catch these cancers early. It also means tumors can spread more quickly to surrounding tissues.
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men?
Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those in women. Most male breast cancers are diagnosed when a man discovers a lump on his chest. But unlike women, men tend to delay going to the doctor until they have more severe symptoms, like bleeding from the nipple. At that point the cancer may have already spread.
How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed and Treated in Men?
The same techniques that are used to diagnose breast cancer in women are used in men: physical exams, mammography, and biopsies (examining small samples of tissue under a microscope).
Likewise, the same treatments that are used in treating breast cancer in women — surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, biological therapy, and hormone therapy — are also used to treat breast cancer in men. The one major difference is that men with breast cancer respond much better to hormone therapy than women do. About 77% of male breast cancers have hormone receptors, meaning that hormone therapy can work in most men to treat the cancer.