In this blog, cancer information nurse Richard runs through the symptoms of breast cancer in men, how it is diagnosed and treated, and where to go for support. 

It may come as a surprise to many people but men can get breast cancer. It is very rare but men (and those who love them) should be aware of the symptoms so that advice and treatment can be sought early, when there’s a better chance of cure.

How rare is it?

Breast cancer in men is very rare. In 2015, about 400 men were diagnosed with breast cancer compared to nearly 55,000 women.

The numbers are small, which means that awareness of this type of cancer is low. As a result, men may not link the symptoms to breast cancer, until the cancer is more advanced. So it's really important that everyone knows what symptoms to look out for.

But how can a man get breast cancer?

All men have a small amount of breast tissue just behind the nipples where breast cancer can develop.

What symptoms should men be aware of?

The first symptom that most men notice is a painless lump under the nipple or areola (the darker area around the nipple).

Other symptoms to be aware of are:

  • a nipple that is turned in
  • swelling in the breast tissue
  • a rash around the nipple
  • discharge or bleeding from the nipple
  • a swelling or lump in the armpit
  • an ulcer on the skin of the breast.

You’ll know how your chest area normally looks and feels. If you notice any change that lasts for a couple of weeks, you should see your GP straight away. Breast cancer is rare, so symptoms are usually caused by other things. But you should always get them checked to be sure.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer in men?

Some of the risk factors are the same as for women, but others are only relevant to men.

The risk factors are:

  • age – the risk increases as you get older
  • family history – having close relatives with breast cancer increases your risk
  • previous radiotherapy treatment to the chest
  • higher levels of oestrogen than normal – can be caused by being overweight or long-term liver damage
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome – a rare syndrome which only affects men
  • testicular effects – such as an undescended testicle or having mumps as an adult
  • working in hot environments, such as blast furnaces or steel works.

Getting diagnosed

If you have symptoms – go and see your GP. Breast cancer in men is so rare that your GP may think the symptoms are something else. But don’t be put off going again if the symptoms don’t go away.

The tests to diagnose breast cancer in men are like those used for women. This will usually include:

  • scans – such as an ultrasound or a mammogram
  • a biopsy of the lump.

If a cancer is found, further tests are done to check if it has spread.

And how is it treated?

The treatment that is recommended will depend on your situation. Your doctor will explain. The main treatments are:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted therapy
  • hormonal therapy.

Getting support

Although breast cancer is not rare, it can be difficult for men with breast cancer to find support. Most of the breast cancer support services are aimed at women, and you may never meet another man with breast cancer. This may leave you feeling isolated.

Your breast care nurse will be a good source of support, and may be able to put you in contact with another man who has had breast cancer.

You may also be able to find support online. You could try our Online Community.

You can also call us at Macmillan. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

You may find it helpful to read our information about breast cancer in men. We can also send you a copy of our booklet, Understanding breast cancer in men.

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The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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