Breast Cancer in Men: Is it Possible?

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts.  Diagnosis and treatment have had big advancements because of the significant amount of support for breast cancer awareness and research. According to the American Cancer Society, survival rates have gone up, and the number of deaths caused by this disease is steadily going down. This is mostly due to earlier detection, a more personalized approach to cancer treatment, and a better understanding of the disease.

Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer cells in women in the United States, after skin cancer. Both men and women can get it, but it is much more common in women.

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer begins to occur when some of the cells start to grow abnormally.  These cells divide more quickly than healthy cells, and as they keep adding up, they form a lump or mass. Cells may move from your breast to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body, which is called metastasis.  Most start with cells in the ducts that produce milk, called invasive ductal carcinoma.  Breast cancer can also start in the glandular tissue called lobules or in other cells or tissues in the breast, known as invasive lobular carcinoma.

There are hormones, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors that may make you more likely to get breast cancer. But it’s not clear why some people who don’t have any risk factors get cancer while others who do have risk factors never get cancer. Most likely, breast cancer is caused by a complicated mix of your genes and your lifestyle.

Male Breast Cancer

For men, this is a rare type of cancer that starts in a man’s breast tissue, and in the United States, less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. Most people think of this as a disease that only affects women, but men can also get it. Most men who get the risk of breast cancer are older, but it can happen to anyone at any age.

If you believe you may have breast cancer, contact us to schedule a clinical breast exam.

Risk Factors for Male Breast Cancer

Several things are known to make it more likely for a man to get breast cancer. However, it’s important to know that many men who get breast cancer don’t have any of these risk factors. Some things that can make a man more likely to get breast cancer include:


As a man ages, his chance of getting cancer grows. In the United States, men with breast cancer are usually about 67 years old, but young men can also contract it.

Family History

If any of a man’s close relatives have had breast cancer, especially if any of them are men, that man is more likely to get it himself.

Genetic Mutations

Men are more likely to get breast cancer if they get certain genetic changes from their mothers or fathers. If a man inherits a BRCA1 mutation, he has about a 1% chance of getting breast cancer in his lifetime. For the average man, this risk is 0.1% or about 1 in 1,000. A man who gets a BRCA2 mutation has a 7–8% chance of getting cancer.

High Estrogen Levels

You might think that estrogen is for women and testosterone is for men. In reality, both men and women have different levels of the hormones testosterone and estrogen. Men have less estrogen in their bodies than women do, but all men have some estrogen and are more likely to get breast cancer if they have more estrogen in their bodies. Men can have a lot of estrogen in their bodies because:

  • Hormone therapy for prostate cancer, known as androgen suppression therapy
  • Hormone therapy is used by transgender women to change from being male to female. It is also called “feminizing hormone therapy” or “gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy”
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being a heavy drinker or having liver disease, like cirrhosis, can limit the liver’s ability to balance hormone levels in the blood
  • Having an undescended testicle
  • Surgery to remove one or both testicles called orchiectomy
  • Swelling or injury of the testicles

Klinefelter Syndrome

Most men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, but men born with Klinefelter syndrome, a rare genetic condition that happens when a man is born with more than one X chromosome in his cells, may have a higher chance of getting breast cancer. The testicles may grow abnormally due to Klinefelter syndrome, and it can cause less of the hormones called androgens, which are usually more common in men, and more of estrogen.

Radiation Exposure

If a man has had radiation therapy to the chest, like during Hodgkin lymphoma treatment, he is more likely to get breast cancer.

Symptoms of Male Breast Cancer

Most of the time, a hard lump or knot in the breast is the first sign of male breast cancer. Since most men don’t check their breasts often and don’t know what the early signs of male breast cancer are, it may take them a while to notice a lump or other change in their breasts and tell their doctor about it. Even though most lumps are not breast cancer, you should see a doctor right away if you notice any strange changes in your breast, chest, or armpit. Most of the time, it’s easier to treat breast cancer when it’s found early. Men should watch out for the following signs and symptoms of breast cancer:

  • A firm lump that is felt in the breast, often right under the nipple
  • A lump in the armpit
  • Nipple pain
  • Nipple turning inward
  • Nipple discharge that is clear or bloody
  • Sores or a rash on the nipple and areola, which is the dark area around the nipple
  • Changes to the breast skin, such as irritation, redness, dimpling, or puckering
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast

Treatment Options

Depending on the details of your diagnosis, there are different ways to get treated, including but not limited to:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Hormonal therapy
  • Immunotherapy

If you are a man and have questions about male breast cancer, reach out to us here at Clearview Cancer Insititute to set up an appointment with one of our specialists to begin your treatment journey.