It’s possible for anyone to develop breast cancer. Most men don’t have a lot of breast tissue, so they’re much less likely to have breast cancer than women. According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, 1 out of 833 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life, compared with 1 out of 8 women.
Not everyone develops full breasts during puberty, but everyone develops milk ducts. The most common type of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma, occurs in these ducts.
There are two types of ductal carcinoma: ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive ductal carcinoma. Ductal carcinoma in situ has not spread outside the duct, while invasive ductal carcinoma has spread to other parts of the body.
Most men don’t develop lobules (the glands that produce milk), so the type of breast cancer called lobular carcinoma is very rare in men. Other very rare types of breast cancer in men are Paget's disease of the nipple and inflammatory breast cancer.
Genetic factors can influence your risk of developing breast cancer, whatever your gender. According to the American Cancer Society, gene mutations in the BRCA2 gene increase the risk of breast cancer in men to about 6 in 100, and mutations in the BRCA1 gene can raise the risk to about 1 in 100. A family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer can indicate the presence of these mutations, and genetic testing can confirm them.
Increased estrogen has been linked to an increase in the risk of breast cancer. Higher body weight, heavy alcohol consumption, cirrhosis (liver disease), testicle inflammation, and having had a testicle removed can increase estrogen in the body.
Estrogen treatments can raise a person’s risk of breast cancer. Such treatments have been used in treating prostate cancer There is some concern that transgender people who take estrogen for gender-affirming care could have an increased risk for breast cancer, although more research is needed.
People with Klinefelter’s syndrome (having cells with one Y chromosome and more than one X chromosome) have higher estrogen levels and a higher risk of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates the risk of breast cancer for people with Klinefelter’s syndrome is 20 to 60 times higher than the regular breast cancer risk for men.
Age is also a risk factor for developing male breast cancer, with the average age of diagnosis at 71 years.
Symptoms of breast cancer in men include:
A health care professional can perform tests to diagnose breast cancer. Anyone can have a mammogram, although these tests are more difficult to administer on people with low amounts of breast tissue. Other diagnostic tests include MRI scans, ultrasounds, lab tests on nipple discharge, and ductograms.
During a ductogram, a health care professional places a very thin tube into the nipple to apply dye into the ducts. This dye highlights the ducts in an X-ray and can reveal a tumor.
If your doctor sees signs of breast cancer, they will order a biopsy to confirm the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy involves removing a small tissue sample for study under a microscope.
Breast cancer treatment, regardless of gender, will depend on how advanced the breast cancer is. Early-stage cancer that hasn’t spread outside the breast is usually treated with surgery and radiation therapy. After these treatments, your oncologist might recommend hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy.
Larger tumors or cancers that have spread further may require systemic drug treatment to shrink the main tumor before surgery. A full mastectomy (removing all breast tissue) may be necessary. Cancers that have spread throughout the body are treated with systemic drug therapy and with surgery to address complications.
If breast cancer is caught before it spreads or when it has only spread to nearby parts of the body, such as close lymph nodes, survival rates are high. Survival rates represent the relative likelihood that someone with a condition will still be alive after a certain period of time compared to someone without the disease.
Localized male breast cancer (which has not spread outside the breast) has a 95 percent five-year relative survival rate. For regional breast cancer (which has spread to nearby structures or lymph nodes), there is an 84 percent five-year relative survival rate. Distant breast cancer, which has spread further out, such as to the lungs or brain, has a five-year relative survival rate of 20 percent.
If you notice signs of breast cancer, make an appointment with your doctor for an exam. If you are diagnosed, you can talk to your oncology team about your breast cancer type and prognosis. They can give you a better idea of how things are likely to progress as you evaluate your treatment options.
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