Many people are unaware that men can develop breast cancer because they do not think of men as having breasts. In fact, both men and women have breast tissue. Currently there are around 55,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK each year, of which about 400 are men.
There is no known single cause of breast cancer in men. However, there are some factors that might increase the risk:
- getting older – men who get breast cancer are usually over 60
- exposure to radiation – previous radiotherapy treatment can slightly increase risk
- obesity - more significant in men over the age of 35
- significant family history – close relatives with a history of breast cancer at a young age
- higher than normal oestrogen levels – as a result of long term liver damage and other conditions
- Kleinfelter's syndrome – a very rare hereditary condition that can increase the risk of breast cancer in men.
The earlier breast cancer is treated the better, so it is important to get any symptoms checked out as soon as possible. Possible symptoms include:
- a lump around the nipple or any other area of the breast
- nipple discharge (may be bloodstained)
- tender or drawn in nipple
- ulceration or swelling of the breast
- swelling under the arm.
Once you have seen your GP (local doctor) you will be referred to a hospital where you will be seen first by a doctor or specialist nurse. At the clinic you will have a triple assessment. This means a breast examination, a mammogram or ultrasound scan, and a fine needle aspiration (FNA) and/or core biopsy.
You may be disappointed and frustrated to find that most information available on breast cancer is specific to women. For example, much of the information talks about practical issues such as bras after surgery or the menopause after chemotherapy, which is not relevant to men.
It is important, however, that any information you receive is accurate. There is a lot of information available, especially on the internet; some websites are excellent sources of information, others are less reliable. And even if the information is accurate, it may not apply to you.
Download or order our Men with breast cancer publication for further information.
The people who have the most information about your cancer are those in the medical team looking after you. If you have questions, it may help to write them down and make a list, with the most important ones at the top. Ask whoever you feel most comfortable with – your specialist, your breast care nurse or someone else in the team. If they don’t know the answer, they should be able to find it out for you.
Content last reviewed March 2011; next planned review 2013