Breast cancer in men?

Cancer of the breast is well-known in Nigeria and globally because it is quite common, and there have been deliberate decades-long efforts to create awareness about it. The infamous cancer even has a whole month dedicated to it – October is the Breast Cancer Awareness month worldwide. 

Despite the much publicity about the cancer, an aspect remains under-discussed: breast cancer in men. 


Male breast cancer is considered less of a hot topic than its female counterpart because it is rarer.

According to the American Cancer Society, men are 70-100 times less likely to have breast cancer than women. However, it is a fact that breast cancer in black men is considerably more aggressive and deadlier than in any other race. 

Hence, knowing about male breast cancer is particularly important in the African setting. 

First things first…

Men Can Have Breast Cancer

Some people may believe that men cannot get breast cancer because they do not have well-developed breasts like women, but this is false. 

Everyone (male and female) is born with a small amount of breast tissue on each side of their chest.

During puberty, females start to secrete estrogen, which stimulates the breast tissues to develop. In contrast, males do not produce the amount of estrogen required for the breasts to fully develop, so the male breasts do not grow like that of females under normal circumstances.

But the fact remains that men have breast tissue, and cells in these tissues can begin to grow abnormally, resulting in breast cancer.

Facts About Male Breast Cancer

  1. Breast cancer is not very common among men aged 35 or younger.
  1. The risk increases as a man gets older, with the average age of diagnosis being 68 years. 
  1. Compared to female breast cancer, breast cancer in men seems to be associated with a worse outcome because:
  • men have little breast tissue, so cancer can easily outgrow the breast and spread to other parts of the body faster than in females.
  • male breast cancers are frequently diagnosed late mainly because of insufficient awareness about the disease, resulting in delays in seeking help.

For these reasons, most men with breast cancer are already in the late stage of the disease at diagnosis, which reduces the possibility of a favourable outcome.

What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer In Men?

  • Hard painless lumps in the breast
  • Changes to the skin above the breasts – the skin may become red, scaly, and may dimple.
  • Changes in the nipple, it may change in colour or become retracted or ulcerated
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes, in or near the underarm area
  • Changes in the areola (the circular dark-coloured ring around the nipple)
  • Breast pain
  • Weight loss
  • Bone pain

What Causes Breast Cancer In Men?

There is no specific cause of male breast cancer. However, some of these factors put men at a higher risk of developing breast cancer:

  • Age. The older a man gets, the higher his risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer is more likely to develop in men older than 65 years.
  • Family history. Having a family member (male or female) with breast cancer increases the risk of developing the cancer.
  • Genetics. Certain genetic mutations, especially to the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes, predispose to breast cancer in both men and women. 
  • High estrogen levels. Estrogen stimulates breast tissue growth; having higher than normal estrogen levels increases the risk of breast cancer in men. Obesity, liver diseases (especially liver cirrhosis), genetic conditions like Klinefelter’s syndrome, and certain medications (such as those used to treat prostate cancer) can cause elevated estrogen levels.
  • Radiation. A history of radiation to the chest increases the risk of developing male breast cancer.
  • Lack of adequate physical activity or exercise increases the risk of male breast cancer.
  • Diseased or absent testicles. 
  • Excessive alcohol intake has been linked to breast cancer in men.

How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed In Men?

Breast cancer in men is diagnosed just as in women. The diagnosis will involve a medical history, physical examination, a mammogram or an ultrasound scan of the breast, and a biopsy from the breast or lump, if present.

How Is Male Breast Cancer Treated? 

The type of treatment given for breast cancer in men mainly depends on the size of the tumour and the stage of the disease. A doctor may adopt one or more of the following options:

  • Surgery. Either total mastectomy (removing all the breast tissues and some lymph nodes) or breast-conserving surgery. 
  • Radiotherapy
  • Hormonal therapy, such as the use of drugs like Tamoxifen. Most male breast cancers, about 90%, will respond to hormonal therapy.
  • Chemotherapy drugs or injections e.g., doxorubicin
  • Immunotherapy

A Word From HealthFacts

Breast cancer can affect both men and women. Early recognition of breast cancer in men can save lives. 

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