Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK with about one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. But did you know men can also get breast cancer?
Here’s what you need to know about breast cancer in men, including symptoms, treatment and causes.
Can men get breast cancer?
Yes, men can get breast cancer. It usually happens in men over 60, but can very occasionally affect younger men. The NHS website said: “Breast cancer is often thought of as something that only affects women, but men can get it in rare cases. It grows in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples.”
Dean, 44, from Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, joined the fundraising group The Pink Firefighters after several members of his family were affected by breast cancer. This included his father, who was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2004, at the age of 60.
He found a lump the size of a two pence coin under his nipple, with the nipple beginning to draw in. Dean said that at first, his dad didn’t do anything about it as he was “completely unaware” of male breast cancer.
But shortly after finding the lump he came across an article in a newspaper about breast cancer, and at the very end of the article it mentioned male breast cancer. This “gave him the nudge he needed to visit his GP”, and after being sent for a mammogram and biopsy he was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
He underwent a mastectomy and had his lymph nodes removed, and “after swift treatment”, his dad is “now fully recovered”, Dean said. But Dean added that he still “speaks to people to this day who have absolutely no idea men can get breast cancer”.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?
The symptoms of breast cancer in men include:
- a lump in the breast - this is usually hard, painless and does not move around within the breast
- the nipple turning inwards
- fluid oozing from the nipple (nipple discharge), which may be streaked with blood
- a sore or rash around the nipple that does not go away
- the nipple or surrounding skin becoming hard, red or swollen
- small bumps in the armpit (swollen glands)
When should I see a GP?
You should see your GP if you have:
- a lump in your breast
- any other worrying symptoms, such as nipple discharge
- a history of breast cancer (in men or women) in members of your family and you’re worried about your chances of getting it
Although it’s very unlikely you have cancer, it is best to get your symptoms checked. Your GP will examine your breast and can refer you for tests and scans for breast cancer if needed. If you do not have symptoms but have a clear family history of breast cancer, your GP may refer you to a genetic specialist to discuss your risk of getting it.
What causes breast cancer in men?
Although the exact cause of breast cancer in men is not known, there are some things that increase your risk of getting it.
- genes and family history – inheriting faulty versions of genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases your risk of breast cancer
- conditions that can increase the level of oestrogen in the body – including obesity, Klinefelter syndrome and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)
- previous radiotherapy to the chest area
The NHS said: “It’s not certain that you can do anything to reduce your risk, but eating a balanced diet, losing weight if you’re overweight and not drinking too much alcohol may help.”
What are the treatment options?
The treatment for breast cancer in men depends on how far the cancer has spread, but possible treatments include:
- surgery to remove the affected breast tissue and nipple (mastectomy) and some of the glands in your armpit
- radiotherapy – where radiation is used to kill cancer cells
- chemotherapy – where cancer medicine is used to kill cancer cells
- other medicines that help stop breast cancer growing – including tamoxifen and trastuzumab (Herceptin)
“Many men have surgery followed by one or more of the other treatments. This can help stop the cancer coming back in the future,” the NHS said.