MALE BREAST CANCER
Both men and women have breast tissue. Although women have a lot more breast tissue and are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than men, cancers can also develop in male breast tissue.
In Australia, men account for less than one percent of breast cancer diagnoses, with as estimated 167 men diagnosed each year. More than 90% of men will be diagnosed at or after age 50. With an aging population, it is likely that the number of men diagnosed with breast cancer will continue to increase.
Because breast cancer is frequently seen as a ‘women’s disease’, some men may find it difficult or embarrassing to discuss their diagnosis. Breast cancer may also leave some men feeling surprised, isolated, anxious and angry. If you need support, have further resources to provide emotional and practical support for people affected by cancer, including information and personal stories about men diagnosed with breast cancer.
Symptoms of breast cancer in men
Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those that women experience. These include:
- A lump in the breast, such as a painless lump close to the nipple.
- A change in the skin colour, texture and appearance of the breast, such as thickening, swelling or dimpling of the skin
- A change in the shape and appearance of the nipple or pectorals (muscles at the front of the chest)
- Discharge from the nipple
- Pain in the breast region
- Swollen lymph nodes (glands) under the arm.
Not all changes in the breast are due to cancer. However, Cancer Australia recommends that men who detect any new or unusual breast changes see their doctor without delay. Finding breast cancer early improves the chances that it can be treated successfully.
Risk factors for breast cancer in men
While it is difficult to determine the exact causes of male breast cancer, there are some factors that are linked to an increased risk of disease. Although these risk factors increase your risk of breast cancer, it does not mean that you will develop breast cancer. Moreover, having no known risk factors does not guarantee that you will never develop breast cancer.
Common risk factors for breast cancer in men include:
- The majority of men (more than 90%) are diagnosed at or after age 50.
- Strong family history, especially if breast cancer in the family has been linked to a mutation in the BRCA2 gene. Mutations in the BRCA1 gene are also associated with an increased breast cancer risk in men, although the risk is lower than for inherited BRCA2 mutations.
Only a minority of breast cancers are explained by inherited mutations, and not everyone with a faulty gene will develop breast cancer. If you are concerned that you may have an increased risk of breast cancer due to family history, please consult your doctor.
Diagnosis of breast cancer in men
Although survival rates for breast cancer have improved, finding it early before it has spread to other parts of the body, still provides the best chance for survival. Getting to know your body, and seeing your doctor if you notice any unusual breast changes, will help you find breast cancer early.
For diagnosis, your doctor will investigate breast changes using a variety of medical tests.
These tests are the same as the ones used to study breast changes in women.
Treatment for male breast cancer
Treatment for men with breast cancer is similar to breast cancer treatment for women. Treatment options will depend on the type, characteristics, and location of the tumour, and the cancer’s grade stage and grade. Treatment options may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.
Fortunately, the majority of men diagnosed with breast cancer do well, with 85% of those diagnosed still alive more than five years later. However, NBCF is committed to zero deaths from breast cancer for both male and female patients. Learn more about our funded projects investigating different ways to improve breast cancer treatment here.
Male partners of breast cancer patients
The news and implications of a breast cancer diagnosis are not only challenging for the breast cancer patient, but also their partners and families. This includes men whose loved one may be diagnosed or living with breast cancer. Partners may struggle with a range of issues that negatively affect their quality of life following a partner’s breast cancer diagnosis – for instance, emotional distress, concerns about finances, sexual intimacy, fertility and the changing dynamic of their relationship (such as becoming the carer).
To maximise our impact on breast cancer, NBCF funds a variety of different research projects, including research into factors affecting quality of life for both breast cancer patients and their partners.