Male breast cancer: Expert insight on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Written by: Ms Gael MacLean
Edited by: Sophie Kennedy

In this informative article, highly esteemed consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon Ms Gael MacLean reveals the common symptoms of male breast cancer and sheds light on the diagnostic process. The leading specialist also discusses treatment, including the success of breast cancer surgery, and explains the importance of testing for genetic carriers of increased breast cancer risk.

What are the first symptoms of male breast cancer?

Male breast cancer accounts for less than one per cent of all breast cancers in the UK and that figure is also the same across Europe. The most common way that a case of male breast cancer comes to light is with a lump in the breast. Alternatively, nipple discharge may present as the first symptom.

How is male breast cancer diagnosed?

Male breast cancer is diagnosed in the same way as female breast cancer when a patient has a lump. If a man has a lump in or near the breast, they need to come to a rapid diagnosis clinic, where they can undergo imaging and a biopsy if required.

When men in come with a lump, they are assessed by a doctor in the clinic and will have an ultrasound scan. If the ultrasound shows something that requires a biopsy for microscopic analysis, they will have a biopsy at that time. The ultrasound also looks at the lymph nodes in the armpit to check that there is no concern there.

Does male breast cancer spread quickly?

It doesn't spread any more quickly than female breast cancer. Male breast cancer can sometimes be picked up on more quickly than female breast cancer because male breasts are generally smaller and therefore the lump is picked up sooner.

How is male breast cancer treated?

Once a man has been diagnosed with breast cancer, they are offered surgery to remove the cancer and also to check the lymph nodes for any microscopic spread. Any patient, male or female, who is diagnosed with breast cancer needs armpit surgery. This may be a small operation to check a couple of lymph nodes for microscopic spread, known as sentinel lymph node biopsy, or a larger operation where all of the lymph nodes are removed. This larger operation may be performed if the results of a biopsy show that there are already cancer cells in the lymph nodes.

Regarding the surgery to the breast, for men, a mastectomy removing the nipple is typically offered because male breast tissue itself is very small.

Does male breast cancer surgery have a high success rate?

Yes, male breast cancer does have a good success rate. It's very important for any man diagnosed with breast cancer that a family history is taken because sometimes the disease is a result of the patient being the carrier of a gene that increases the risk of breast cancer and so, it's very important to look into that. This is much more relevant in younger patients, specifically those under the age of 60.

If you wish to schedule a consultation with Ms MacLean, visit her Top Doctors profile today.

By Ms Gael MacLean

Ms Gael M MacLean is a leading consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon based in Oxford. With over 8 years of consultant surgeon experience, Ms MacLean specialises in oncoplastic surgery, axillary surgery, male breast cancer surgery, immediate reconstruction for breast cancer, symmetrising breast reduction after breast cancer surgery, mastopexy, mastectomy, as well as breast reconstruction with implants.

Ms MacLean received her MBBS from King’s College, London before going on to complete her surgical training at various hospitals across the UK, including Reading, London, and Oxford. She is also a member of Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In addition to her training in the UK, Ms MacLean has also completed a fellowship in breast reconstruction surgery at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden. She has been a consultant surgeon in the NHS since 2014. 

Ms Maclean is an expert in oncoplastic breast surgery, with extensive experience in a wide range of procedures. She currently runs private clinics at GenesisCare Orion House (Diagnostic Centre) in Oxford. She is also a consultant oncoplastic surgeon at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and she was head of the Breast Surgery Department throughout the COVID pandemic.

Ms MacLean has extensive experience in surgical education. She was the first Honorary Secretary of the prestigious Faculty of Surgical Trainers at the Royal College of Surgeons. Ms MacLean has also lectured on surgical training internationally. She has published several medical articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, on topics such as therapeutic mammoplasties, lymphoedema and diagnosis of potentially malignant lesions. 

Ms MacLean offers 'one stop' breast clinics at both The Manor Hospital and Genesis Care both in Oxford. In these clinics imaging (mammography and ultrasound) is available at the same time as your consultation. Ms MacLean works with consultant radiology doctors in these clinics providing excellent care and allowing rapid diagnosis.

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