Introduction 

Breast cancer is often thought of as a condition that only affects women, but men can also develop it.

It's much less common in men than women, with only around one new case of breast cancer diagnosed for every 100,000 men (about 350-400 cases) in the UK each year.  

The cancer develops in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples. The most common symptom is a hard, painless lump in one of the breasts.

However, the vast majority of breast lumps are caused by a condition called gynaecomastia. This is a common, non-cancerous condition where male breast tissue becomes enlarged.

Breast cancer in men can also cause nipple problems, such as the nipple turning in on itself (retraction) or nipple discharge.

Read more about the symptoms of male breast cancer.

When to see your GP

You should always talk to your GP if you notice a lump in your breast, or you have problems affecting your nipples, such as discharge.

While these symptoms are unlikely to be caused by breast cancer, they should be investigated further. 

Why it happens

The cause of male breast cancer is unclear, but factors known to increase your chances of developing the condition include:

  • age – most cases affect men over 60 years of age
  • having a family history of breast cancer (male or female)
  • obesity – a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more

Read more about causes of breast cancer in men.

Treating breast cancer in men

In most cases, surgery is used to remove the cancer along with a section of the breast. This may be followed by a long-term course of hormone blocking therapy using medication, usually one called tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen helps to block the effects of hormones on breast tissue that are known to stimulate the growth of cancerous cells. It should help prevent the cancer from returning.

In some cases, radiotherapy or chemotherapy may be used for the same purpose.

Read more about treating breast cancer in men.

Outlook

The outlook for breast cancer is not as good in men as in women. This is because there's reduced awareness of the condition and it may take longer to diagnose.

The survival rates for breast cancer in men largely depend on how far the cancer has spread before it's diagnosed. Breast cancer diagnosed at an early stage can often be treated successfully, but effective treatment is more difficult if the cancer has spread beyond the breast tissue.

Unfortunately, many cases are diagnosed after the cancer has already started to spread.

Read more about diagnosing breast cancer in men.

Reducing your risk

The most effective way of reducing your risk of developing breast cancer, as well as other serious health conditions, is to:

Read more about preventing cancer.




Page last reviewed: 24/03/2015

Next review due: 24/03/2017