The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Male Breast Cancer

Read our blog, Men Get Breast Cancer Too.

The male breast

Boys and girls begin life with similar breast tissue. However, men don’t have the same complex breast growth and development as women.

At puberty, high testosterone levels and low estrogen levels stop breast development in men.

Men have some milk ducts, but they remain undeveloped. Lobules are most often absent.

However, breast problems, including breast cancer, can occur in men.

Learn more about breast anatomy.

Breast cancer in men

In the U.S., less than one percent of all breast cancer cases occur in men [144].

The risk of breast cancer is much lower in men than in women. The lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 833 for men in the U.S. compared to 1 in 8 for women in the U.S. [122,144].

From 2015-2019 (most recent data available), the breast cancer incidence rate in men, as well as in women, increased slightly (by less than one percent per year) [59].

In 2022, it’s estimated that among men in the U.S., there will be [53]:

  • 2,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer (includes new cases of primary breast cancer, but not recurrences of original breast cancers)
  • 530 breast cancer deaths

Rates of breast cancer incidence (new cases) and mortality (death) are much lower among men than among women [54,145].

Incidence rates in 2019 (most recent data available) and mortality rates in 2020 (most recent data available) were [54,145]:

 

Men

Women

Incidence rate (new cases per year)

1.3 per 100,000

131.1 per 100,000

Mortality rate (deaths per year)

0.3 per 100,000

19.1 per 100,000

Survival rates for men are about the same as for women with the same stage of breast cancer at the time of diagnosis [123].

However, men are often diagnosed at a later stage of breast cancer than women [123]. One reason may be that men may be less likely than women to report signs and symptoms [124]. This may lead to delays in diagnosis [124].

Race and ethnicity

Male breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. vary by race and ethnicity.

Non-Hispanic Black men have the highest breast cancer incidence rate overall [56]. Hispanic men have the lowest [56].

For example, in 2019 (most recent data available) [56]:

 

Non-Hispanic Black
men

Non-Hispanic White
men

Hispanic
men

Non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islander
men

Incidence rate
(new cases per year)

1.9 per 100,000

1.3 per 100,000

0.8 per 100,000

0.7 per 100,000

Non-Hispanic Black men have higher a breast cancer mortality rate than non-Hispanic white and Hispanic men [146].

For example, in 2020 (most recent data available) [146]:

 

Non-Hispanic Black
men

Non-Hispanic White
men

Hispanic
men

Non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islander
men

Mortality rate
(deaths per year)

0.5 per 100,000

0.3 per 100,000

0.2 per 100,000

Not available

Age at diagnosis

From 2014-2018 (most recent data available), the overall median age of breast cancer diagnosis for men in the U.S. was 68 [58]. The median is the middle value of a group of numbers, so about half of men are diagnosed before age 68 and about half are diagnosed after age 68.

The median age of breast cancer diagnosis for men is older than for women (overall, the median age at diagnosis for women is 63) [58].

Race and ethnicity

The median age of breast cancer diagnosis for men varies by race and ethnicity.

For example, from 2014-2018 (most recent data available), Black men tend to be diagnosed at a younger age than white men [58]. The median age at diagnosis for Black men is 64, compared to 69 for white men [58].

Warning signs of breast cancer in men

The most common warning sign of breast cancer in men is a painless lump or thickening in the breast or chest area [123,125].

However, any change in the breast or nipple can be a warning sign of male breast cancer including [123,125]:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening in the breast, chest or underarm area (usually painless, but may be tender)
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin of the breast
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of the nipple (inverted nipple) or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge (rare)

These may also be signs of a benign (not cancer) breast condition.

Because men tend to have much less breast tissue than women, some of these warning signs may be easier to notice in men than in women.

Don’t delay seeing a health care provider

Some men may be embarrassed about a change in their breast or chest area. Others may not know it’s important and put off seeing a health care provider. This may result in a delay in breast cancer diagnosis. Survival is highest when breast cancer is found early and treated.

If you notice any of the warning signs above or other changes in your breast, chest area or nipple, see a health care provider right away.

If you don’t have a health care provider, one of the best ways to find a good one is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend.

You can also call your health department, or a nearby hospital or clinic. If you have insurance, your insurance company may have a list of health care providers in your area.

Learn more about finding a health care provider.

Types of breast cancer in men

Most male breast cancers begin in the milk ducts of the breast (invasive ductal carcinomas).

Fewer than 2 percent of male breast cancers begin in the lobules of the breast (invasive lobular carcinoma) [126-127].

Men tend to be diagnosed with breast cancers that are hormone receptor-positive and HER2-negative [127-128].

Learn more about the anatomy of the breast.

Rare breast cancers in men

In rare cases, men can be diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (a non-invasive breast cancer), inflammatory breast cancer or Paget disease of the breast (Paget disease of the nipple) [127].

Learn about treatment for breast cancer in men.

Benign breast conditions in men

Benign breast conditions (also known as benign breast diseases) are noncancerous disorders of the breast. The most common benign breast condition in men is gynecomastia.

Learn about benign breast conditions in women.

Gynecomastia

Gynecomastia is an enlargement of the breast. It’s the most common benign (not cancer) breast condition in men.

Gynecomastia results from a hormone imbalance in the body. Some diseases, hormone use, obesity and other hormone changes can cause this imbalance [129]. For example, boys can get a temporary form of gynecomastia during puberty.

Gynecomastia doesn’t need to be treated unless it causes pain or you want to have the enlarged tissue reduced. In these cases, it can be treated with hormone therapy or surgery [130].

Sometimes, a medication or medical condition may be causing gynecomastia [130]. Your health care provider may recommend stopping the medication or treating the medical condition [130].

Some studies show gynecomastia may increase the risk of breast cancer in men [127,131-132].

BRCA2 inherited gene mutations and male breast cancer risk

Men can inherit a BRCA2 (BReast CAncer 2) inherited gene mutation from either parent. And a man who has a BRCA2 inherited gene mutation can pass the mutation on to both his sons and daughters.

BRCA2 inherited gene mutations and cancer risk

Men who have a BRCA2 inherited gene mutation, and to a lesser degree men who have a BRCA1 inherited gene mutation, have an increased risk of breast cancer [95-96,99].

For example, the lifetime risk of breast cancer (up to age 80) is [96,99,133-134]:

  • About 50-80 in 1,000 men with a BRCA2 inherited gene mutation
  • About 12 in 1,000 men with a BRCA1 inherited gene mutation
  • Fewer than 2 in 1,000 men (up to any age) in the general population

Men who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation also have an increased risk for prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and melanoma (BRCA2 gene mutations only) [91,96-100,135-136].

Other inherited gene mutations are under study for a possible link to breast cancer in men [137-140].

Learn more about BRCA2 inherited gene mutations and cancer risk in men.

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For a summary of research studies on BRCA1 and BRCA2 inherited gene mutations and cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.

BRCA2 inherited gene mutations and genetic testing

Genetic testing gives people the chance to learn if their breast cancer is due to an inherited gene mutation.

In the U.S., 5-10 percent of breast cancers in women are thought to be due to known inherited gene mutations [97,144]. However, up to 40 percent of breast cancers in men may be related to BRCA2 inherited gene mutations alone [141]. This means men who get breast cancer are more likely to have an inherited gene mutation than women who get breast cancer.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends all men diagnosed with breast cancer have genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations [96].

Your health care provider can recommend a genetic counselor so you can learn more about genetic testing.

Cancer screening for men with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation

There are special cancer screening recommendations for men with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation.

Learn about cancer screening for men with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation.

Other risk factors for breast cancer in men

Although there are some factors that increase the risk of male breast cancer, most men diagnosed have no known risk factors (except for older age).

Age

Older age is the most common risk factor for breast cancer in men. Overall, the median age of breast cancer diagnosis in men in the U.S. is 68 [58].

Family history of breast cancer

Whether or not a man has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation, having a family member with breast cancer increases the chances of developing breast cancer [127].

If you have a family history of breast or other type of cancer, your health care provider can help you understand how this impacts your risk of breast cancer and other cancers, including prostate cancer.

My Family Health History Tool

My Family Health History tool is a web-based tool that makes it easy for you to record and organize your family health history. It can help you gather information that’s useful as you talk with your family members, doctor or genetic counselor.

Gynecomastia

Gynecomastia is an enlargement of the breast. It’s the most common benign (not cancer) breast condition in men.

Some studies show gynecomastia may increase the risk of breast cancer in men [127,131-132].

Klinefelter’s syndrome

Klinefelter’s syndrome is a rare condition that occurs when men are born with two X chromosomes instead of one (XXY instead of XY). Men with Klinefelter’s syndrome have high levels of estrogen in their bodies [127].

Klinefelter’s syndrome increases the risk of breast cancer in men [123,127,131-132].

Men with Klinefelter’s syndrome may have gynecomastia (enlargement of the breast tissue). Some studies show gynecomastia may also increase the risk of breast cancer in men [127,131-132].

Overweight and obesity

Men who are overweight or obese appear to have an increased risk of breast cancer [126-127,131-132].

Being overweight can increase estrogen levels in the body and these higher estrogen levels, in turn, may increase breast cancer risk.

Other risk factors

Although data are limited, some factors that increase estrogen levels in the body are under study for a possible link to breast cancer in men. These include some hormone drugs used to treat prostate cancer [126-127].

Other factors under study for breast cancer in men include [127,131-132]:

  • Diabetes
  • Exposure to large amounts of radiation early in life, such as radiation therapy to the chest for the treatment of childhood cancer
  • Some conditions that affect the testicles, such as orchitis (swelling of one or both testicles) or undescended testes

Learn about risk factors for breast cancer in women.

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For more information on breast cancer in men, visit the National Comprehensive Cancer Network website (www.nccn.com) or the American Society for Clinical Oncology website (www.cancer.net).

 

SUSAN G. KOMEN® SUPPORT RESOURCES

Updated 10/17/22

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