Breast cancer is most often associated with women—its symbol is the pink ribbon after all. But did you know that men can have breast cancer, too? While not common, the American Cancer Society projects that 2300 cases will be diagnosed in 2023 and more than 530 men will die from male breast cancer. 1 in 833 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life.
One famous example? Actor and Golden Globe winner Richard Roundtree. He was diagnosed in the early 1990s after finding a lump in his breast. Today, after undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, he is now one of the biggest advocates of male breast cancer awareness.
Signs of Breast Cancer in Men
Symptoms of breast cancer in men are much the same as they are in women. If you’re a guy, look for:
- A swelling or lump in your breast, usually painless and hard
- A nipple that has retracted
- Flaky or red breast skin
- Irritated breast skin
Some signs that are less common are:
- Sore or painful nipples
- Nipple discharge
- A hard or inflamed nipple
It’s important to note that most of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions. For instance, gynecomastia is a non-cancerous condition that causes enlargement of the male breast tissue. It is the most common diagnosis after men discover breast lumps.
Male Breast Cancer Survival Rate
Good news for the guys—less than 1% of all breast cancer cases are diagnosed in men. Bad news is that male breast cancer is increasing. Between 1975 and 2015, the rate of diagnosis rose 40%. Compare that to women, whose breast cancer incidence rate increased only 25% in the same time period.
Men diagnosed between 2008 and 2017 have a 5-year breast-cancer specific survival rate of only 84%. Women in a similar time period, 2012-2018, had a 5-year survival rate of 91%.
Experts propose that the main reason for the difference is simply awareness. Men and their doctors catch breast cancer later than women, when it’s harder treat. The takeaway? Breast cancer in men is less common, but more deadly, and the mortality rates are not improving.
Causes of Breast Cancer in Men
So we know that guys can get breast cancer, but what are the causes of breast cancer in men? The most common male breast cancer risk factors include:
- Having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- Having a family history of breast cancer
- Being older
- Having hormone therapy treatment (for instance for prostate cancer)
- Receiving radiation therapy of the chest
- Having certain testicle conditions
- Being diagnosed with Klinefelter syndrome
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a liver disease
Remember that just because you have these risk factors, there is no guarantee that you’ll be diagnosed. While there are some causes you can’t control, like family history, you can do a lot to reduce your odds in other areas. Avoiding alcohol and smoking, regularly exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and diet all reduce your risk factors for a cancer diagnosis.
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If you have symptoms or are at high risk, speak with your doctor. Develop a screening plan (such as a regular mammogram), consider doing regular breast self-exams, or even doing a genetic test if cancer runs in your family. In addition to helping people create a custom prevention plan, studies have shown that genetic tests actually reduce stress for those that take them.
- Key Statistics for Breast Cancer in Men, American Cancer Society
- Richard Roundtree, Wikipedia
- Breast cancer (male), NHS Inform
- Epidemiology of male breast cancer, The Breast: Official Journal of the European Society of Mastology
- Survival in male breast cancer over the past 3 decades, Journal of the National Cancer Institute
- Survival Rates for Breast Cancer, American Cancer Society
- Breast Cancer in Men, Centers For Disease Control and Prevention