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breast cancer men

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?

Fewer than one in 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK are male. As with all types of cancer, spotting symptoms early on is very important for recovery and survival. As men aren’t screened for breast cancer, it’s down to individuals to notice any changes in how their chest feels or looks.

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What causes breast cancer in men?

In cancer, cells in a certain parts of the body multiply at an abnormal rate, which over time damages nearby body structures. In breast cancer, this starts in breast tissue.

Men can develop breast cancer as altough they have a smaller amount of breast tissue than women, they do have some. This breast tissue is located in the same place for both sexes - the chest or pecks on male bodies. The cancer grows in the small amount of tissue that men have behind their nipples

Is breast cancer common in men?

Breast cancer is rare in men, Giulia Guerrini, lead pharmacist of digital pharmacy Medino, says around 350 men are diagnosed each year in the UK, compared to around 55,000 cases in women1. Breast cancer is most common in men over 60 years old, but younger men are at risk too.

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Symptoms of breast cancer in men

As with breast cancer in women, the most common symptom of male breast cancer is a hard, painless lump. It's important for men to get a lump checked out by their doctor. There are other possible causes that also require medical attention.

Other common symptoms of breast cancer in men:

  • Liquid leaking from the nipple that may or may not be blood stained.

  • A nipple turning inwards.

  • Swelling of the breast - gynecomastia.

  • Swelling or a lump under the arm.

  • An ulcer in the skin of the breast.

  • A rash on or around a nipple.

  • A hard, red, or swollen nipple.

"If you experience any of these symptoms, or have a history of breast cancer in the men or women in your family, it's best to speak to your GP," advises Guerrini. "Having breast cancer is very unlikely, but taking a preventative approach is the best policy when dealing with such a serious topic."

How to check for breast cancer in men

As breast cancer in men is much rarer, breast screening programmes are only offered to women. This doesn't mean that men needn't bother self-checking for symptoms - if anything, it's more of a reason to be proactive.

There are no guidelines specifically for men to follow. Instead, men should check for cancer lumps and other symptoms in the same way that women are advised to. This involves getting to know what feels and looks normal to you, and carrying out regular checks for anything out of the ordinary.

"The most important symptoms to regularly check for are a persistent rash or soreness around the nipple, any hard lumps around the breast, nipple discharge, nipples becoming hard, red or swollen, nipples turning inwards and small bumps in the armpit," adds Guerrini.

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Self-checking for men and women - any differences?

There are many similarities between breast cancer in men and women, but also a few differences. When it comes to self-examination, the most obvious is breast size and how this affects your ability to notice lumps2.

Having less breast tissue may make it easier for men to become aware of small lumps. However, less breast tissue means that breast cancer cells don't need to spread very far before reaching the nearby muscles, skin, and nipple. The extent to which they spread to other parts of the body is a crucial factor for how treatable the cancer is.

The potential danger of the cancer spreading to surrounding tissue and lymph nodes at a quicker rate, coupled with the general lack of awareness among males, poses a real threat to the men that do develop this serious illness but don't notice the signs.

Can breast cancer be cured in men

No matter where cancer originates, and no matter your gender, how far the cancerous cells spread through your body determines how well the cancer can be treated and your chances of survival. You can find out more about the treatments and outcomes for breast cancer here.

Further reading

  1. Cancer Research UK: Male breast cancer.

  2. American Cancer Society: Breast cancer in men.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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