Breast cancer is often thought of as something that only affects women, but men can get it in rare cases. It develops in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples.
It usually occurs in men over 60, but can very occasionally affect younger men.
This page covers:
When to see your GP
Symptoms of breast cancer in men
Signs of breast cancer in men include:
- a lump in the breast – this is usually hard, painless and doesn't move around within the breast
- the nipple turning inwards (inverted nipple)
- fluid oozing from the nipple (nipple discharge), which may be streaked with blood
- a sore or rash around the nipple that doesn't go away
- the nipple or surrounding skin becoming hard, red or swollen
- small bumps in the armpit (swollen glands)
Read more about the symptoms of breast cancer in men.
When to see your GP
See your GP if you have:
- a lump in your breast
- any other worrying symptoms, such as nipple discharge
- a history of breast cancer (in men or women) in close members of your family and you're worried about your chances of getting it
It's very unlikely you have cancer, but it's best to get checked out. Your GP will examine your breast and can refer you for tests and scans for breast cancer if needed.
If you don't have symptoms but have a clear family history of breast cancer, your GP may refer you to a genetic specialist to discuss your risk of getting it.
There are some inherited genes that increase your risk of cancer and a blood test can be done to check for these. Read about testing for cancer risk genes.
Treatments for breast cancer in men
The treatment for breast cancer in men depends on how far the cancer has spread.
Possible treatments include:
- surgery to remove the affected breast tissue and nipple (mastectomy) and some of the glands in your armpit
- radiotherapy – where radiation is used to kill cancer cells
- chemotherapy – where medication is used to kill cancer cells
- other medicines that help stop breast cancer growing – including tamoxifen and trastuzumab (Herceptin)
Many men have surgery followed by one or more of the other treatments. This can help stop the cancer coming back in the future.
Read more about treatments for breast cancer in men.
Outlook for breast cancer in men
The outlook for breast cancer in men varies depending on how far it has spread by the time it's diagnosed.
It may be possible to cure breast cancer it it's caught at an early stage.
A cure is much less likely if the cancer isn't found until it has spread beyond the breast. In these cases, treatment can relieve your symptoms and help you live longer.
Speak to your breast care nurse if you'd like to know more about the outlook for your cancer.
Causes of breast cancer in men
The exact cause of breast cancer in men isn't known, but there are some things that increase your risk of getting it.
- genes and family history – inheriting faulty versions of genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases your risk of breast cancer
- taking medicines that increase the amount of a hormone called oestrogen in the body, such as hormone medicines sometimes used for prostate cancer
- conditions that can increase the level of oestrogen in the body – including obesity, Klinefelter syndrome and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)
- previous radiotherapy to the chest area
It's not certain if you can do anything to reduce your risk, but eating a balanced diet, losing weight if you're overweight and not drinking too much alcohol may help.