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 breast 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 2014, it is estimated that among men in the U.S., there will be :
- 2,360 new cases of invasive breast cancer (includes new cases of primary breast cancer among survivors, but not recurrence of original breast cancer among survivors)
- 430 breast cancer deaths
Rates of breast cancer incidence (new cases) 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 [40,67-69]. However, any change in the breast or nipple can be a warning sign of breast cancer in men including [40,67-69]:
- 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 symptoms may also be signs of a benign (non-cancer) breast condition. 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.
Don’t delay seeing a health care provider
Some men may be embarrassed about a change in their breast or chest area and put off seeing a health provider, but this may result in a delay in diagnosis. Survival is highest when breast cancer is found early.
If you notice any of these signs or other changes in your breast, chest area or nipple, see a provider right away. If you do not have a provider, one of the best ways to find a good one is to get a referral from a trusted family member or friend. If that is not an option, call your health department, a clinic or a nearby hospital.
Learn more about finding a health care provider.
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) [70-71]. Learn more about the anatomy of the breast.
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) [40,67-68]. 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 most common benign breast conditions 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 causes pain or if you want to have the enlarged tissue reduced. In these cases, it can be treated with hormone therapy or surgery .
Growing evidence suggests that gynecomastia increases the risk of breast cancer in men [73-74].
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).
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) [67,69].
BRCA2 gene mutations
Men (and women) with an inherited BRCA2 (BReast CAncer 2) gene mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer [40,67,69,75]. 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 [49,76]. 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 (including BRCA1) are under study for a possible link to breast cancer in men .
Learn more about BRCA2 mutations and breast 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 (not cancer) breast condition. Growing evidence suggests that gynecomastia increases the risk of breast cancer in men [67,73-74].
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 [67,73-75]. Men with Klinefelter's syndrome have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to men without this condition .
Men with Klinefelter's syndrome may have gynecomastia (enlargement of the breast tissue). Growing evidence suggests that gynecomastia also increases the risk of breast cancer in men [67,73-74].
Overweight and obesity
Men who are overweight or obese appear to have an increased risk of breast cancer [67-69,73-75]. 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 at this time, some factors that can increase estrogen levels in the body are under study for a possible link to breast cancer in men, including [67-69,75]:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Some hormone drugs used to treat prostate cancer
- Higher estrogen levels in turn, may increase breast cancer risk.
Other factors under study for breast cancer in men include [40,68-69,73-75]:
- Exposure to large amounts of radiation early in life (such 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.
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.