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Breast cancer in men

Although breast cancer is more common in women, around 350 men are diagnosed with the condition in the UK each year.

Among men who get breast cancer, more are diagnosed between the ages of 60 and 70.

Men don't have breasts. How can men get breast cancer?

Even though men do not have breasts like women, they do have a small amount of breast tissue. In fact, the "breasts" of an adult man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty, and consist of a few ducts surrounded by breast and other tissue. In girls, this tissue grows and develops in response to female hormones, but in men -- who do not secrete the same amounts of these hormones -- this tissue does not develop.

However, because it is still breast tissue, men can develop breast cancer. In fact, men get the same types of breast cancers as women do, although cancers involving the milk producing and storing regions of the breast are very rare.

Which men are more likely to get breast cancer?

It is very rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer, but the likelihood of developing the disease increases with age, with most being detected between the ages of 60 and 70 years. Family history in a close female relative and a history of radiation exposure of the chest can also increase the risk.

High oestrogen levels have been linked to male breast cancer. This may be due to being overweight or obese; cirrhosis and other liver conditions; and genetic conditions such as Klinefelter's syndrome, which give a man an extra female chromosome.

How serious is breast cancer in men?

Doctors used to think that breast cancer in men was a more severe disease than it was in women, but it now seems that for comparably advanced breast cancers, men and women have similar outcomes.

The major problem is that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. This may be because men are less likely to be suspicious of an abnormality in that area. In addition, their small amount of breast tissue is harder to feel - making it more difficult to detect these cancers early, and allowing tumours to spread more quickly to the surrounding tissues.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?

Symptoms are very similar to those in women. Most male breast cancers are diagnosed when a man discovers a lump on his chest. However, unlike women, men tend to delay going to the doctor and when they do they often go with more severe symptoms that often include bleeding from the nipple and abnormalities in the skin above the cancer. The cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes in a large number of these men.

How is breast cancer diagnosed and treated in men?

The same techniques -- physical examination, ultrasound, mammograms and biopsies (examining small samples of the tissue under a microscope) -- that are used to diagnose breast cancer in women are also used in men.

The same five treatments that are used to treat breast cancer in women -- surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and biological therapy -- are also used to treat the disease in men. The one major difference is that men with breast cancer respond much better to hormone therapy than women do.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 19, 2016

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