Although breast cancer is much more common in women, men can develop breast cancer. In the United States, less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men.
People often assume that men don’t get breast cancer. Although breast cancer is much more common in women, men do have a small amount of breast tissue and can develop breast cancer.
Men and women both have breasts that are made up of fatty tissue, fibrous tissue called stroma, nipples, ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipples), and lobules (milk-producing glands). During puberty, the hormones in girls’ bodies cause their breast tissue to grow. The hormones in boys’ bodies restrict the growth of their breasts, so their breast tissue stays smaller. Most breast cancers in men are ductal carcinomas, which begin in the milk ducts.
Male breast cancer is a rare disease. In the United States, fewer than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. In 2022, about 2,710 American men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer, and about 530 are expected to die from the disease. An average man’s risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in his lifetime is about one in 1,000 (compared to one in eight for the average woman).
Unfortunately, men are often diagnosed with breast cancer at a more advanced stage. The main reason is they don’t have routine screening mammograms like women do to find breast cancer at an early stage when it is easier to treat. And since men may not know they can get breast cancer, they’re usually not on the lookout for changes in their breast tissue, and may not realize they should talk to their doctor about a lump, pain, swelling, or other symptoms.
Doctors say that men should be familiar with how their breast tissue normally looks and feels so they can be aware of any changes. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the chances it can be successfully treated. The outcomes of men with breast cancer are about the same as those of women diagnosed at the same age and stage.
Since there are relatively few cases of breast cancer in men compared to women, there is less information and research focused specifically on male breast cancer. As a result, treatment decisions for male breast cancer are often based on studies of breast cancer in women.
Fortunately, more clinical trials of breast cancer treatments are now including men. If you’re a man who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s worth finding out if you can enroll in a clinical trial of a treatment that might be beneficial for you.
Some men who’ve had breast cancer say they felt especially shocked and isolated by their diagnosis because everyone views breast cancer as a women’s disease. Many say they had never met other men who had breast cancer. It’s important to know that support is available through groups like the Male Breast Cancer Coalition.
Symptoms of male breast cancer
The first sign of male breast cancer is usually a lump in the breast that feels like a hard knot or pebble. Since most men aren’t regularly checking their breasts and aren’t aware of the early warning signs of male breast cancer, it may take some time for them to notice a lump or other breast change and bring it to the attention of their doctor. While the majority of lumps are not breast cancer, it’s important to have any unusual changes to your breast, chest, or armpit checked by a doctor as soon as you can. When breast cancer is found early, it’s usually easier to treat successfully.
The signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men to watch out for include:
- a firm lump felt in the breast, often right under the nipple,
- a lump in the armpit,
- nipple pain,
- nipple turning inward,
- nipple discharge (clear or bloody),
- sores or a rash on the nipple and areola (the dark area around the nipple),
- changes to the breast skin, such as irritation, redness, dimpling, or puckering, or
- change in the size or shape of the breast.