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Breast Cancer in Men


Many people relate October to the color pink, representing Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Typically, women are highlighted in breast cancer awareness initiatives, but did you know that men can get breast cancer, too? Even though men don’t have developed breasts, they still have small amounts of breast tissue that can develop cancer. To remind folks that men are still at risk, Frederick Regional Health System is observing National Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week.

While breast cancer is approximately 100 times less common in men, the American Cancer Society (ACA) estimates that in 2017:

  • About 2,470 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed.
  • About 460 men will die from breast cancer.
  • Less than 1% of all breast cancer develops in males.

Male breast cancer forms the same way as breast cancer in females: a malignant tumor starts from the cells of the breast and may travel to other parts of the body, including lymph nodes. Male breasts are very similar to pre-pubescent female breasts, and because men still have breast tissue, they are susceptible to breast cancer. Men can also develop noncancerous breast disorders, such as:

  • Gynecomastia: This is the most common male breast disorder. Rather than a tumor, it is an increase in the amount of breast tissue. According to the ACA, gynecomastia can appear as a button-like growth under the nipple and areola. Medicines, hormones, liver disease, obesity, or endocrine disorders can cause gynecomastia. If a lump like this develops, it’s best to have it examined by your healthcare provider.
  • Benign breast tumors: Papillomas and fibroadenomas are benign breast tumors that can occur in men. These tumors do not spread outside the breast and are not life threatening. They are more common in women, but can occur in men.

So, who is at risk?

It is extremely rare for men under 35 to get breast cancer, but like breast cancer in women, the chance of your risk increases with age. Most cancers occur in men between the ages of 60-70. There are multiple risk factors that can determine whether you are more susceptible to this disease, including:

  • A close relative who has, or has had, breast cancer. About 1 in 5 men with breast cancer have a close relative with the disease.
  • History of radiation exposure to the chest.
  • Obesity. Fat cells in the body convert male hormones into female hormones, meaning that obese men have higher levels of estrogen in their body.
  • Gynecomastia.
  • Alcohol use. Heavy drinking increases breast cancer risks, which may be because of its effects on the liver.
  • Taking estrogen supplements.
  • Klinefelter syndrome, a rare genetic condition in which a boy is born with an extra copy of the X chromosome.
  • Cirrhosis, or severe liver disease.


Fortunately, there are ways to lower your risk of developing male breast cancer. Restricting alcohol consumption and maintaining an ideal weight are important, but since the cause of most breast cancers isn’t known, there isn’t a definitive way to prevent breast cancer altogether. Hormone levels and gene mutations, both acquired and inherited, are thought to be contributing causes.

According to the ACA, early detection is an issue for men since they may not notice breast lumps or visit their doctor until lumps have grown larger. This means that, in general, men are diagnosed at more advanced stages than women. Here are symptoms to look out for:

  • A lump or swelling
  • Skin dimpling or puckering on the breast
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge

If you have any of these symptoms, you should visit your healthcare provider for an exam and further testing.

Screening for Male Breast Cancer

Breast cancer screening recommendations are not the same for men and women. Screening for male breast cancer depends on your risk for developing the disease. Your healthcare provider can help to determine your level of risk and review what screening options make sense for you.

If your physician recommends imaging to screen for breast cancer, you can contact Frederick Memorial Hospital Imaging Services at 240-566-3400 to schedule an appointment.

Research Advancement

Research of causes, prevention, and treatment is underway in medical centers throughout the world, and new facts are being learned about this disease, including:

  • Men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations may be more likely to develop some cancers.
  • A large ongoing study of causes of male breast cancer has identified several genetic variations that are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer, and the effect of these variations are different in men and women. This suggests that there could be a difference in the biology of breast cancer in men and women.
  • Researchers have found that in many breast cancers, cells can break away from the tumor and enter the blood and circulate. These cells can be detected with sensitive lab tests.
  • New techniques in some therapies may be more effective, and studies are being done for new types of radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapies.

Remember, even though breast cancer is rare in men, it does happen. While prevention is your best defense against the disease, you cannot control some risk factors that increase your risk. If you and your healthcare provider determine that you are at increased risk for breast cancer, early detection is important to increase your chances of a successful treatment outcome.

Add this topic to your list of questions for your next doctor’s appointment, and join us in the fight against breast cancer.