Male breast cancer is rare. A man’s lifetime risk of getting it is 1 in 833. Compare that to a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer, which is 1 in 8.
But often men get caught in a panic because the main symptom, a lump in the breast, does occur in males. These lumps almost always turn out to be another, much less serious condition.
The important point is to make sure it is not breast cancer because that does occur in rare cases.
“It’s probably nothing serious, but still see a doctor and make sure it’s not,” says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center.
Symptoms of male breast cancer
Several of the sympoms of male breast cancer are similar to female breast cancer symptoms. Here's what men should look out for:
- A lump. Just as in female breast cancer, one of the biggest signs to look out for is a lump in the breast. If the lump is cancerous, it will likely be painless. It is much more common for men to find a lump that feels tender to the touch, or sore when their shirt rubs on it. These more painful lumps are usually a harmless condition called gynecomastia. This happens when men develop breast glandular tissue, often caused by a hormone imbalance. Some medications and recreational drugs like cannabis also cause gynecomastia.
- Nipple discharge. Fluid coming from the nipple can be a sign of male breast cancer. This can appear even if you don’t feel a lump.
- Skin or nipple changes. The skin on your breast might start to dimple or thicken. Your nipple could become red or scaly, or it could start to invert.
These symptoms should all be checked out by your doctor. If there is cause for concern, your doctor will recommend a mammogram or ultrasound.
“Having a man in our Undiagnosed Breast Clinic is not uncommon,” says Bevers. “For it to turn out to be male breast cancer is very uncommon.”
Causes of male breast cancer
Male breast cancer is often linked to a family history of the disease.
About 1 in 5 men with breast cancer have a close relative – male or female – with the disease. These men may have a gene mutation, or defect, called BRCA1 or BRCA2, or simply called BRCA.
“Any male breast cancer that is diagnosed warrants genetic testing,” says Bevers.
And if a man has close relatives who have had breast cancer, especially at a young age, he should talk to his doctor about genetic testing.
Other causes include:
- Another genetic condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome
- Physical inactivity
- A history of bone fractures
- Testicular inflammation
- Gynecomastia also slightly increases your risk for male breast cancer
Knowing your family history and being aware of your body so you can detect changes are important steps in protecting yourself against breast cancer. The earlier cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.