Male breast cancer

middle-aged white man with glasses and wooly jumper

Often people are surprised to hear that men can get breast cancer. This may be because they don’t think of men as having breasts. In fact, both men and women have breast tissue and ducts behind the nipple.

During puberty in girls, female hormones cause their breasts to grow and milk-producing glands or lobes are formed at the end of the ducts. In boys, male hormones prevent breasts from growing.

Getting a breast cancer diagnosis

Because not many men get breast cancer you may feel alone or embarrassed about your diagnosis. Or you may find it difficult to talk about. Try not to bottle up your feelings or cope on your own. Remember that there are people who can support you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

How common is breast cancer in men?

Male breast cancer is rare. About 30 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Ireland. The figure for women is about 3,400 each year. 

What increases the risk of breast cancer in men?

  • Age. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60, although younger men can be affected.
  • High oestrogen levels. High oestrogen levels can increase the risk. High oestrogen can happen with chronic liver damage, obesity and some genetic conditions.
  • Obesity. Being very overweight (obese) seems to increase the risk of male breast cancer, especially for men over 35 years of age. 
  • Kleinfelter's syndrome. This is a rare genetic condition where a man is born with an extra female chromosome. For men who have this syndrome the risk of breast cancer is 20 times greater than the average.
  • Radiation. Men who have had repeated and prolonged exposure to radiation can be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. For example, radiotherapy treatment to the chest wall, particularly at a young age.
  • Significant family history or genetic link. Men with a significant family history of female breast cancer are also at a higher risk of breast cancer. This includes a mother or sister, particularly if the relative was under the age of 40 when diagnosed. Read more about cancer and genes.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?

  • A painless lump in the breast – this is the most common symptom
  • Nipple discharge (often blood-stained)
  • A tender or pulled-in nipple
  • Ulceration or swelling of the breast
  • Swollen lymph glands under the arm

Male breast cancer is very rare and most breast changes are not cancer, but it’s important to go to the GP and get any changes checked out. 

How is male breast cancer diagnosed?

Once you have seen your GP (family doctor), you will be referred to a specialist breast unit. Tests you might have include:

  • A mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast.
  • An ultrasound, which is a picture of the breast using sound waves.
  • A core biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is removed under a local anaesthetic and looked at under the microscope.

Read more about diagnosing breast cancer.

How is male breast cancer treated?

Treatment for men with breast cancer is the same as that for women. The treatment offered to you will depend on different factors such as the type of tumour, the stage of the disease and your general health.

The main treatments used are surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapies. Read more about treating breast cancer.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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