The male breast
Though boys and girls begin life with similar breast tissue, over time, men do not have the same complex breast growth and development as women. At puberty, high testosterone and low estrogen levels stop breast development in males. Some milk ducts exist, but they remain undeveloped, and lobules are most often absent. However, breast problems, including cancer, can occur in men.
Learn more about breast anatomy.
Find statistics on breast cancer in women.
Breast cancer in men
Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does happen. In the U.S., about one percent of all breast cancer cases occur in men . In 2013, it is estimated that among men in the U.S., there will be :
- 2,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer
- 410 breast cancer deaths
Rates of breast cancer incidence (new cases, including new cases of primary breast cancer among survivors, but not recurrence of original breast cancer among survivors) and mortality (death) are much lower among men than among women . For example, in 2010 (most recent data available) :
Incidence (new cases)
1.3 per 100,000
120.9 per 100,000
0.3 per 100,000
21.9 per 100,000
Survival rates for men are about the same as for women with the same stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis . However, men are usually diagnosed at a later stage because they are less likely to report symptoms .
Warning signs of breast cancer in men
The most common sign of breast cancer in men is a painless lump or thickening in the breast or chest area . However, any change in the breast or nipple can be a warning sign of breast cancer in men including [67-70]:
- 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
As men tend to have much less breast tissue compared to women, some of these signs can be easier to notice in men than in women. These symptoms may also be signs of a benign (non-cancer) breast condition.
If you notice any of these signs or other changes in your breast, chest area or nipple, see your health care provider right away. Some men may be embarrassed about a change in their breast or chest area and put off seeing a provider, but this may result in a delay in diagnosis. Survival is highest when breast cancer is found early.
Learn about benign breast conditions in women.
Types of breast cancer in men
For men (and women), most breast cancers begin in the milk ducts of the breast (invasive ductal carcinomas). Fewer than five percent of breast cancers in men begin in the lobules of the breast (invasive lobular carcinoma) [71-72]. Learn more about the anatomy of the breast.
In rare cases, men can be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (a non-invasive breast cancer) or Paget disease of the breast (Paget disease of the nipple) [67-69]. Paget disease of the breast is a cancer that begins in the milk ducts of the breast tissue, but spreads to the skin of the nipple. It can cause a scaly rash on the skin of the nipple. Although Paget disease of the breast is rare, it occurs more often in men than in women .
Learn about treatment for breast cancer in men.
Learn more about the anatomy of the breast.
Benign breast conditions in men
Benign (not cancer) breast conditions can occur in both women and men. However, the benign breast conditions most common in women (such as cysts and fibroadenomas) are very rare in men.
Learn about benign breast conditions in women.
The most common benign breast condition in men is gynecomastia (GUY-nuh-ko-MASS-tee-uh) (enlargement of the breast tissue). Gynecomastia results from a hormone imbalance in the body. Certain diseases, hormone use, obesity and other hormone changes can cause this imbalance . For example, boys can get a temporary form of gynecomastia during puberty.
Gynecomastia does not need to be treated unless it is desired or it causes pain. In these cases, it can be treated with hormone therapy or surgery .
At this time, it is unclear whether gynecomastia is related to breast cancer. Although some data suggest it may increase the risk of breast cancer in men, most studies have found no link between the two [68,74-76].
Risk factors for breast cancer in men
Although some factors have been found to increase the risk of breast cancer in men, most men who are diagnosed have no known risk factors (except for older age).
Getting older increases the risk of breast cancer. Older age is the most common risk factor for breast cancer in both men and women. In men, breast cancer occurs most often between ages 65 and 67 (this is somewhat older than in women) .
Klinefelter's syndrome is a rare condition that occurs when men are born with two X chromosomes instead of one (XXY instead of XY). It is related to high levels of estrogen in the body [68,73-74]. Men with Klinefelter's syndrome have a 20 to 50 times greater risk of breast cancer compared to men without this condition .
Men with Klinefelter's syndrome may have gynecomastia (enlargement of the breast tissue). Although some data suggest gynecomastia may increase the risk of breast cancer in men, most studies have found no link between the two [68,74-76].
BRCA2 gene mutations
Men (and women) with an inherited BRCA2 (BReast CAncer 2) gene mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer [67-68,73-74]. Men can inherit a BRCA2 mutation from either parent. And, a man who has a BRCA2 mutation can pass the mutation on to both his sons and daughters.
Breast cancer in men is more likely than breast cancer in women to be related to an inherited gene mutation. Up to 40 percent of breast cancers in men may be related to BRCA2 mutations, while only five to 10 percent of breast cancers in women are considered to be due to a gene mutation [48,77]. So, it’s usually recommended that men diagnosed with breast cancer have genetic testing for possible BRCA2 mutations (learn more about genetic testing).
Men who have a BRCA2 mutation have about a seven percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 . (In comparison, women who have a BRCA2 mutation have a 40 to 60 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 ). Men with a BRCA2 mutation are also at an increased risk for other types of cancer, such as prostate cancer.
Other genes are under study for a possible link to breast cancer in men .
Learn more about BRCA2 mutations and cancer risk.
Learn about breast cancer screening for men with a BRCA2 mutation.
Family history of breast cancer
Whether or not a man carries a BRCA2 mutation, having a family member with breast cancer increases the chances of developing breast cancer [69-70].
Learn about breast cancer screening for men with a strong family history of breast cancer.
Gynecomastia (enlargement of the breast tissue) is a benign breast condition. At this time, it is unclear whether gynecomastia is related to breast cancer in men. Although some data suggest that it may increase the risk of breast cancer in men, most studies have found no link between the two [68,74-76].
Other risk factors
Although data are limited at this time, some conditions related to hormone levels in the body are under study for a possible link to breast cancer in men, including [68-69,74,76]:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Chronic liver disease
- Some hormone drugs used to treat prostate cancer
These conditions can increase estrogen levels in the body and these higher estrogen levels, in turn, may increase breast cancer risk.
Exposure to large amounts of radiation early in life (such as the atomic bomb explosions in Japan and radiation treatment for childhood cancer) may also be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in men [67,69-70,74].
Learn about risk factors for breast cancer in women.
For more information on breast cancer in men, visit the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (www.nccn.com) or the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s website (www.cancer.net).
Komen Support Resources
- Our breast care helpline 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) provides free, professional support services and help finding local support groups. Our trained and caring staff are available to you and your family Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. EST and from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. PST.
- Our Message Boards offer online forums to share your thoughts or feelings about subjects related to breast cancer. Our Men Can Get Breast Cancer Too forum offers men a place to share their experiences with other male breast cancer survivors.