December 30, 2020
Mammograms for men: What to expect
BY Danielle Underferth
Male breast cancer is extremely rare. About 1% of breast cancers in the United States occur in males. But certain men do run the risk of getting breast cancer. Men who are at risk, or who have symptoms of breast cancer, may need to get a mammogram.
We talked to Gary Whitman, M.D., in Breast Imaging about male breast cancer and what men can expect during a mammogram. Here’s what he had to say.
How do men get mammograms?
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast tissue done on a special machine that compresses the tissue for an accurate image.
During the exam, the breast technologist will adjust and compress each breast to get the best picture. Each breast will be positioned on top of a plate or paddle. They will move a top plate down, pressing the breast between the two plates. They will then move the plates and compress the breast tissue from the side. The technologist will adjust your breast once it's compressed to ensure the best image.
Even though men have less breast tissue than women, with fewer ducts and lobules, mammograms for men and women are much the same. If there’s a small amount of breast tissue, it’s sometimes not a great fit with the imaging device, but we do the best that we can.
At MD Anderson, we do a lot of imaging of men. We’re used to handling them, and we have techniques to get a good image.
For the best image, and to reduce the risk of having to come back for a second mammogram, do not wear deodorant, powders, lotions or scents on the day of your mammogram. They can appear as an abnormality on the image.
Who should get a mammogram for male breast cancer?
You should talk to your doctor about getting a mammogram if you have symptoms of male breast cancer.
The most common symptom of breast cancer in men is a lump or a mass in the breast. Often this turns out to be gynecomastia, or simply a concentration of male breast tissue that can be felt through the skin. The best way to find out if it is harmless is to get a mammogram.
Other symptoms of male breast cancer include nipple discharge, nipple pain and changes in the look or feel of the skin on the breast. That can include redness, an orange-peel appearance, change in color, dimpling or puckering.
Having one or more of these symptoms does not mean you have breast cancer. But it is a sign that you should talk to your doctor, especially if it lasts two weeks or more.
Should men with a family history of breast cancer get a mammogram?
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or a family history that indicates a genetic mutation that increases breast cancer risk, talk to your doctor about genetic counseling to get a better picture of your risk. Once your risk is determined, your doctor may recommend a mammogram.
A strong family history means you have a first-degree relative (mother, father, sibling, child) with early-onset breast cancer, breast cancer in both breasts or ovarian cancer. Any of these may indicate that you have inherited a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation that raises your breast cancer risk, as well as your risk for prostate cancer.
What should transgender individuals know about male breast cancer and mammography?
If you have transitioned from one gender to another, or are in the process, it’s important to share as much information as possible with your doctor, especially regarding surgeries and hormone medications.
If your doctor recommends you get a mammogram, it also is important to share this information with your technologist to ensure the most accurate image.
For these patients, we want to make sure that the intake and the examination are done in a sensitive, patient-focused manner.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Do not wear deodorants, powders, lotions or scents on the day of your mammogram.
Gary Whitman, M.D.