Types of Cancer
Breast cancer in men
What is breast cancer in men ?
Both men and women have breast tissue. In men, most breast tissue is located behind the nipple. Women have a lot more breast tissue than men - and a much higher rate of breast cancer. Cancers can, however, occur in male breast tissue.
Breast cancer is uncommon in men. It is estimated that more than 200 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2023. The average age at diagnosis is 71 years old.
As our population ages, we are likely to see a gradual increase in the number of Australian men diagnosed with breast cancer each year. It is therefore increasingly important to provide information and support to affected men and their families.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men
Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those for women and include:
a breast lump
thickening of the breast tissue
dimpling of the skin of the breast
change in shape of the breast or nipple
a discharge from the nipple
a painful area
swollen lymph nodes in the armpit area.
Causes of breast cancer in men
Some factors that can increase the risk of breast cancer in men include:
family history of breast cancer in first-degree relatives (male or female) who have had BRCA2 breast cancer; or several relatives who have had colon, prostate or ovarian cancer
high levels of oestrogen
some testicular disorders
Klinefelter's syndrome - a rare condition where men have two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome (XXY instead of XY).
Lifestyle factors that slightly increase the risk of breast cancer in men and women include:
- drinking alcohol
- being overweight
- lack of physical activity.
Diagnosis of breast cancer in men
Tests for diagnosing breast cancer in men are the same as those for women. They include:
a low-dose x-ray of the breasts
a painless scan using soundwaves to create a picture of your breast
where a small sample of tissue is removed and examined under microscope by a specialist.
Treatment for breast cancer in men
Treatment depends on the extent of the cancer.
The main treatment for breast cancer in men is surgical removal of the breast (mastectomy). The whole breast is removed, including the nipple. Usually the pectoralis muscles under the breast do not need to be removed. Partial mastectomy is usually not a suitable option for men.
The lymph nodes (lymph glands) in the armpit area are usually also sampled at the time the mastectomy is performed. This may be done with:
- sentinel lymph node biopsy (If there is no sign of cancer in the lymph nodes on the imaging and examination before the surgery, the few lymph nodes closest to the cancer are sampled) or
- axillary lymph node dissection (if it is known that there is cancer in the lymph nodes before surgery, then all of the lymph nodes may be removed.
Your surgeon will discuss the treatment options with you before the operation.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. It may be recommended after surgery, especially if cancer is seen in the lymph nodes.
Hormone therapy may be used in addition to other treatments. Hormone therapy aims to block the effect of oestrogen or reduce the amount of oestrogen in the body. They are effective treatment for breast cancer that has oestrogen (ER) receptors. These are taken as tablets, usually for a five or ten year course.
Targeted therapies use drugs to treat certain types of breast cancer. The most commonly used drug is Herceptin - It is usually given in combination with chemotherapy.
In some cases of breast cancer, your medical team may talk to you about palliative care. Palliative care aims to improve your quality of life by alleviating symptoms of cancer.
As well as slowing the spread of breast cancer, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. Treatment may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other drug therapies.
Treatment TeamDepending on your treatment, your treatment team may consist of a number of different health professionals, such as:
- Surgeon- surgically removes tumours and performs some biopsies.
- Medical oncologist - prescribes and coordinates the course of chemotherapy.
- Radiation oncologist - prescribes and coordinates radiation therapy treatment.
- Breast care nurses- provide information and support to people affected by breast cancer during and after treatment.
- Oncology nurse- cares for people who are diagnosed with cancer throughout treatment.
- Other allied health professionals - such as social workers, pharmacists, and counsellors.
Screening for breast cancer in men
Breast cancer screening for men is not recommended in Australia.
Preventing breast cancer in men
There is no proven method of preventing breast cancer in men.
Prognosis for breast cancer in men
While it is not possible to predict precise outcomes, your doctor may give you a prognosis - a prediction of the likely course of the disease and your response to treatment.
- Understanding Breast Cancer © Cancer Council Australia 2020. Last medical review of source booklet July 2020.
- Men Get Breast Cancer Too © Breast Cancer Network Australia 2016.
- Cancer Australia
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cancer data in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2023 [cited 2023 Sept 04]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-data-in-australia
This information was last updated September 2023.
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