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Breast cancer in men

Learn all about breast cancer in men, from causes and symptoms, to diagnosis and treatment. And read tips on coping with breast cancer, plus further resources.

1. Can men get breast cancer?

Many people don’t know that men can get breast cancer because they don’t think of men as having breasts. But men do have a small amount of breast tissue.

Breast cancer in men is cancer that starts in this small amount of breast tissue.

Breast cancer in men is very rare. Around 370 men are diagnosed each year in the UK.

Most men who get breast cancer are over 60, although younger men can be affected.

2. Signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men

A lump in the chest area

The most common symptom is a lump in the chest area which is often painless.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • Liquid, sometimes called discharge, that comes from the nipple without squeezing and which may be blood-stained
  • A tender or inverted (pulled in) nipple
  • Ulcers (sores) on the chest or nipple area
  • Swelling of the chest area and occasionally the lymph nodes under the arm

What to do if you notice a symptom

If you notice a change to your breast tissue or nipple, see your GP as soon as you can. You should also report any changes up to the collarbone or in in the armpit.

Men’s breast tissue can also become enlarged because of a benign (not cancer) condition called gynaecomastia

3. Causes of breast cancer in men

The exact causes of breast cancer in men are not fully understood, but certain things increase the risk. 

The Male Breast Cancer Study is looking at what might cause breast cancer in men.

Age

Most men who get breast cancer are over 60, although younger men can be affected.

High oestrogen levels

There’s some evidence that men are at greater risk if they have higher than normal levels of the hormone oestrogen. 

All men have a small amount of oestrogen.

High oestrogen levels can occur in men because of:

  • Long-term liver damage, particularly cirrhosis
  • Obesity (being very overweight)
  • Some genetic conditions, such as Klinefelter syndrome

Radiation

Men who have had previous radiotherapy to the chest, for example to treat Hodgkin lymphoma, may have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Family history

A small number of men have a significant family history of breast cancer.

This may be because they inherited an altered gene that increases the risk of breast cancer. The most common altered genes are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. BRCA2 is more commonly associated with breast cancer in men.

If you have an altered gene, your risk of breast cancer (and possibly other cancers) increases. However, the increased risk of breast cancer is still low and less than women in the general population. If you have children, they will have a 50% chance of inheriting the altered gene.

If you’re concerned about your family history, the first step is to talk to your GP.

4. Diagnosis

See your GP if you have any symptoms of breast cancer. 

Your GP will examine you. They’ll then follow a set of guidelines to decide whether to refer you to a breast clinic, and how urgently you should be seen. 

What to expect at the breast clinic

Your visit to the breast clinic may take several hours. 

You can take a partner, close friend or relative with you for company or support. Some people prefer to go on their own.

A doctor or specialist nurse will ask you about your symptoms 

You may be asked to fill in a short questionnaire including questions about any family history of breast problems and any medication you’re taking.

You will have an examination 

The doctor or nurse will check the breast tissue on both sides. As part of the examination it’s usual to examine the lymph nodes under your arm and around your neck.

You may need further tests 

These will usually include one or more of the following:

  • A
  • An
  • A of the breast tissue and sometimes lymph nodes - several tissue samples may be taken at the same time
  • A of the breast tissue and sometimes lymph nodes

Getting your results

The breast clinic staff will let you know how and when you’ll get your results. 

If all your tests are done in a one-stop clinic, some of the results may be available later that day, but if you have a core biopsy this will take longer. Or you may be given further appointments to complete your tests and get the results. Your results will also be sent to your GP, and you can ask for a copy of the letter to be sent to you.

It may be a good idea to have someone with you when you get your results. They can support you, should you need it, and may think of questions that hadn’t occurred to you and remember things you may forget. It may be useful to write down any information you want to remember later.

If you’re anxious about your results and would like to talk to someone, you can call our free helpline - please see the top or bottom of this page.

If you have breast cancer 

If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer you’ll be told if it is early breast cancer, also known as primary breast cancer, or if breast cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body, known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer.

You’ll also be given more detailed information that will help your specialist team decide which treatments to recommend.

You’ll be introduced to a breast care nurse who will talk to you about your diagnosis and treatment. They will offer you support and written information and can be a point of contact throughout your treatment and afterwards.

To find out more about the information and support we can offer, call our helpline - please see the top or bottom of this page.

When you’re a man with breast cancer, it can be hard to find people who understand. That’s why there’s a space just for men on our online discussion forum.  It’s a confidential area where you can share tips and information, and talk about what’s on your mind, with other men who really get it.   

5. Treatment for breast cancer in men

There are various treatments available for men with breast cancer.

Find out more about treating breast cancer in men.

6. Coping with breast cancer

If your results show you have breast cancer, you may feel a range of emotions such as shock, fear, disbelief, anger, guilt and sadness. 

You may find it hard to take in or believe what you are being told. 

Try not to keep your feelings to yourself or cope on your own. There are people who can support you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Find out more about the emotional effects of breast cancer

Telling other people 

As breast cancer is usually associated with women you may feel embarrassed about discussing your diagnosis. 

Talking openly about your cancer may be difficult, especially at first, but it may make it easier for people to support you. Talking is also part of the process of adjusting to what has happened.

If you tell everyone you know, however, you might be overwhelmed or shocked by their reactions. Who you tell and how you tell them is up to you.

Some people will find it difficult to know what to say to you. If you can bring the subject up first it may help put them at ease while also making it easier for you.

Telling people the basic facts about your diagnosis and options for treatment can be a good way to begin and may lead naturally to talking about how you are feeling.

Finding support 

Family and friends can be a good source of support. It’s helpful for family and friends to know how you want to deal with things and how they can best respond to your needs. 

You can talk to your breast care nurse, treatment team or GP about any concerns you have. 

You may feel isolated if you do not know any other men in the same situation. You can talk on the phone or by email to another man who has had breast cancer through our Someone Like Me service - please see further below.

There is a monthly virtual meet-up for men diagnosed with breast cancer, supported by a number of charities, including Walk the Walk and the Male Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC). All men with a history of a breast cancer diagnosis, who are English-speaking, and based in a convenient time-zone are welcome.

For more information and to find out what support is available, you can also call us free on our helpline number below.

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Quality Assurance

Last reviewed in January 2020. Revised in June 2022. The next planned review begins in February 2023.

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If you’re a man facing breast cancer, we’re here for you. View information and support that you might find helpful.

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