For the roughly 2,600 men who are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States annually, the news can be very surprising. Men who are diagnosed with breast cancer are not alone; our team of male breast cancer specialists at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer (DF/BWCC) is focused on providing the care and support that male breast cancer patients need at the time of diagnosis, during treatment, and later as survivors. We offer cutting-edge oncologic care, as well as emotional and psychosocial support services and coordination of care with other providers.
In addition to treating men with breast cancer, our physician-researchers are also involved in research focused on male breast cancer. Because breast cancer is rarer in men than in women, more research is needed to learn about causes, optimal treatments, and side effects of these treatments in men. Our ongoing research will be key to advancing our understanding of this disease, and to developing the best therapies.
Frequently Asked Questions about Male Breast Cancer
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men?
A: Because early detection is so important in breast cancer, men need to know that this disease can affect them too. Signs and symptoms that men should watch for are similar to those of women's breast cancer. They include:
- A lump or swelling in the breast or in lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone
- Dimpled skin around the breast
- Nipple turning inward
- Redness or scaling of the breast or nipple
- Nipple discharge
If a man notices any of these, he should consult with a doctor.
Q: How common is male breast cancer?
A: Male breast cancer makes up less than 1% of all cases of breast cancer. Approximately 270,000 women and 2,600 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States. Breast cancer may occur in men at any age, but it usually occurs in men between 60 and 70 years of age.
Q: What types of breast cancer can men get?
A: The most common type of breast cancer in men is invasive ductal carcinoma. Other less common types include ductal carcinoma in situ (a non-invasive form), inflammatory breast cancer, and Paget's disease of the nipple.
The majority of breast cancers in men are estrogen-receptor (ER)-positive. Less often, men can present with HER2-positive or triple-negative breast cancers.
Anatomy of the male breast
The nipple and areola are on the outside of the breast. The lymph nodes, fatty tissue, ducts, and muscles are on the inside of the breast.
Q: How is breast cancer in men diagnosed?
A: Techniques used to diagnose male breast cancer are similar to those used to diagnose breast cancer in women. The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and health history
- Clinical breast exam (CBE)
- Mammogram: An x-ray of the breast
- Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed
pictures of both breasts
- Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance
can be a sign of disease.
- Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues to be viewed by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer
Q: What are the treatment options for male breast cancer?
A: In many cases, treatment for men with breast cancer is similar to treatment for women with breast cancer. Treatment can include chemotherapy,
endocrine therapy, radiation, and surgery. However, there are some important differences with regard to surgery, radiation therapy, and endocrine therapy. Because most breast cancers in men are hormonally sensitive (in other words, the estrogen and/or
progesterone receptor are expressed on the tumor cells), drugs like tamoxifen (a blocker of the estrogen receptor) are very commonly prescribed to men. More research is needed to study whether men would benefit from other therapies.
See our more than 40 breast cancer clinical trials, many of which are available to men.
Q: What are the outcomes for men diagnosed with breast cancer?
A: The outcomes for men with breast cancer are generally similar to those of women diagnosed at a similar stage. As with most cancers, the earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the chance of cure. Current treatments are highly effective for most
men, and new breast cancer therapies are being developed all the time.