What to know about breast cancer in men

Nov. 15, 2017—When you think about breast cancer, you usually think about how it affects women. But men get breast cancer too.

Breast cancer, a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast, is about 100 times less common in men than women. But that doesn't mean it's not a serious health problem for men. The American Cancer Societyestimates that in 2017 about 2,470 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and about 460 men will die from it.

Because the disease is rare for men, there's been limited information on breast cancer awareness and screening tactics for men, as well as how to treat the men diagnosed with it.

Breast cancer in men makes up less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute. Although the disease can strike at any age, breast cancer is most often found among men who are 60 to 70 years of age.

How do men discover breast cancer?

Because men don't typically think of breast cancer as a risk, it can take time to recognize signs of the disease. Men don't get regular mammograms, so most discover breast cancer by feeling a painless lump on their breast (most often underneath the nipple and areola), sometimes after an injury to the chest area.

What are the risk factors?

Men have some of the same risk factors for breast cancer as women do. These include:

  • High levels of estrogen exposure.
  • A family history of the disease.
  • A history of radiation to the chest.
  • A BRCA gene mutation.

All men have estrogen in their bodies. But obesity, liver disease and a genetic disorder called Klinefelter's syndrome can increase estrogen levels in men.

How is it treated?

Treatment options for breast cancer in men are similar to those for women. These include:

  • Removing the breast (mastectomy).
  • Removing the cancerous growth (lumpectomy).
  • Radiation.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Targeted therapies.
  • Hormone therapy.

In the past, men haven't always been included in breast cancer trials. But that's changing. For the last few years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been asking drug companies to allow men in these trials unless a scientific reason exists for excluding them.

While only certain women with breast cancer receive genetic counseling, FDA advises that all men with breast cancer should be referred for it.

Talk to your doctor

Awareness is key when it comes to breast cancer in both men and women. Don't wait to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have. To learn more, visit our Breast Cancer health topic center.