Breast Cancer in Men: What You Need to Know

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Breast cancer in men is rare: Less than 1 percent of cases occur in men. That is good news, but the rarity of the disease also poses a challenge because many men are not aware that they can get breast cancer. This lack of knowledge can mean the disease is detected later in men than in women, and this may impact treatment options.

At the Swedish Cancer Institute, we are experts in diagnosing and treating breast cancer in men. With leading specialists and the latest technology, we offer both men and women personalized care and medical expertise.

Men and women with breast cancer can have the same symptoms and types of cancer, and they undergo the same treatments. But there also are important differences between breast cancer in men and women to consider.

Here are some key things to know about breast cancer in men and how SCI can help.

Risk Factors for Men

Age: While women are more at risk for breast cancer starting at 50, men are on average about 68 when they are diagnosed.

Estrogen treatment: Men who are taking hormonal medicines including estrogen as part of a sex-change process have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Radiation exposure: Men who have had radiation treatment to the chest for a non-breast-related cancer such as lymphoma have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

Obesity: Fat cells convert male hormones into female hormones. This means that obese men have higher levels of estrogen, raising the risk of breast cancer.

Liver disease: Diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver can increase estrogen levels in men and raise their risk of breast cancer.

Klinefelter syndrome: Men with this genetic disease have lower levels of male hormones and higher levels of estrogen, raising the risk of breast cancer.

Family history or genetic mutations: Men and women are at risk of breast cancer if they have close family members such as a mother or sister with the disease, or genes linked to breast cancer. These genes include BRCA1 and BRCA2.

If you are a man in this category, the SCI’s Hereditary Cancer Clinic can help with genetic testing. Testing usually involves either a blood draw or a saliva sample. The results are confidential and usually available in three weeks.

For more information or to make an appointment, please call one of our three locations for the Hereditary Cancer Clinic:

Symptoms for Men

Both men and women with breast cancer may experience changes in nipple shape, plus nipple pain or discharge. Both may also have a lump in their breast. While a lump in a woman or man may occur anywhere in the breast or underarm, a lump in a man usually occurs underneath the nipple and areola.

Detection and Diagnosis

Awareness: Because breast cancer is so uncommon in men, they aren’t as aware as women about the need to pay attention to possible changes in breast tissue. Some men ignore breast lumps and don’t connect them to the possibility of cancer. This can delay diagnosis, giving the tumor a chance to spread and impacting treatment options. But survival rates for men are similar to women when breast cancer is diagnosed early.

Breast size: Men have much less breast tissue than women, and that makes it easier for men and their healthcare providers to feel small masses of tissue that can be tumors. But because men have so little breast tissue, cancerous cells don’t have to travel far to reach other areas of the breast or lymph nodes. This is crucial because finding cancer as soon as possible to stop its spread is an important factor in effectively treating the disease.

Treatment

If you are a man experiencing breast problems or are newly diagnosed with breast cancer and looking for answers, the Swedish Cancer Institute can help. Call 206-215-6400 for a consultation and to learn about treatment options.

Dan's Story

Read one male breast cancer survivor’s story and how SCI cared for him from diagnosis through recovery. 

Questions for Your Treatment Team

Here are some questions that your Swedish cancer team can answer as you consider treatment:

  • What type of breast cancer do I have?
  • Has my cancer spread to lymph nodes?
  • What is the stage of my cancer and what does that mean for my treatment?
  • What treatments are best for me?
  • How long will treatment last? What will it involve?
  • What side effects should I expect from treatment?
  • Am I a candidate for taking part in a breast cancer trial?
  • Should I see a genetic counselor?

Download these questions as a PDF to take with you to your appointments