About Breast Cancer in Men

Statistics regarding men and breast cancer

Breast cancer occurs not only in women but also in men, because men have breast tissue as well. Breast cancer in men is rare — less than one percent of all breast carcinomas occur in men. Consider the latest statistics available from the American Cancer Society:

  • The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2013 about 2,200 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men in the U.S.

  • Breast cancer is about 100 times more common among women.

  • Estimates for 2013 also indicate that about 410 men in the U.S. will die from breast cancer.

  • The average age at diagnosis is about 68, although men of all ages can develop breast cancer.

What are risk factors for breast cancer in men?

Risk factors may include:

  • Age

  • Radiation exposure

  • Estrogen treatment

  • Diseases associated with hyperestrogenism, such as cirrhosis or Klinefelter syndrome

  • Heavy alcohol intake

  • Obesity

Also, there are definite familial tendencies for developing breast cancer:

  • An increased incidence is seen in men who have a number of female relatives with breast cancer.

  • An increased risk of male breast cancer has been reported in families in which a BRCA2 (Breast Cancer 2) gene mutation has been identified.

What is the most common type of breast cancer in men?

Infiltrating ductal cancer is the most common tumor type, but intraductal cancer, inflammatory carcinoma, and Paget disease of the nipple have been described as well.

Lobular carcinoma in situ is rare in men.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?

The following are the most common symptoms of breast cancer in men. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Breast lumps

  • Nipple inversion

  • Nipple discharge (sometimes bloody)

  • A pain or pulling sensation in the breast

  • Skin or nipple changes such as dimpling, puckering, redness, or scaling

The symptoms of breast cancer may look a lot like other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What are the similarities to breast cancer in women?

Lymph node involvement and the pattern of spread are similar to those found in female breast cancer. The staging system for male breast cancer is identical to the staging system for female breast cancer.

Prognostic factors that have been evaluated include the size of the lesion and the presence or absence of lymph node involvement, both of which correlate well with prognosis.

Overall survival is similar to that of women with breast cancer. The impression that male breast cancer has a poorer prognosis may be due to the fact that it's often diagnosed at a later stage.

Treatment for men with breast cancer

Specific treatment for male breast cancer will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

The primary standard treatment is a modified radical mastectomy, just as it is with female breast cancer.

Other treatment may include:

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is a process that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. Radiation done after surgery can kill cancer cells that may not be seen during surgery. Radiation may also be done:

    • Before surgery to shrink the tumor

    • In combination with chemotherapy

    • As a palliative treatment (therapy that relieves symptoms, such as pain, but does not alter the course of the disease)

    Radiation therapy is usually delivered by external beam radiation (also called external beam therapy). The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes.

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual.

  • Hormone therapy. In some cases, hormones can kill cancer cells, slow the growth of cancer cells, or stop cancer cells from growing. Hormone therapy as a cancer treatment involves taking substances to interfere with the activity of hormones or to stop the production of hormones.

    Before you begin hormone therapy, your doctor will do a hormone receptor test. This lab test is performed on the cancerous tissue to see if estrogen and progesterone receptors are present. A hormone receptor test can help to predict whether cancer cells are sensitive to hormones.

    This test measures the amount of certain proteins (called hormone receptors) in cancer tissue. Hormones (such as estrogen and progesterone that occur naturally in the body) can attach to these proteins. If the test is positive, it means that the hormone is probably helping the cancer cells to grow. In this case, hormone therapy may be given to help keep the hormone away from the cancer cells. If the test is negative, the hormone does not affect the growth of the cancer cells and other cancer treatments are given. Always discuss the results of the hormone receptor test with your doctor.

    The hormone estrogen is present in men, as well as in women. Estrogen can increase the growth of breast cancer cells in some men. Hormone therapy may be recommended for men whose breast cancers test positive for estrogen receptors. Antiestrogens, such as tamoxifen, are often used in hormone therapy for breast cancer in both men and women.

  • Adjuvant therapy. This is radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy given after surgery for the removal of cancer. It is used to kill any cancer cells that cannot be seen. Adjuvant therapy may be considered on the same basis as it is for a woman with breast cancer because there is no evidence that the prognosis is different for men or women.