Male breast cancer: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Written by: Mr Kislaya Kumar Thakur
Published: | Updated: 30/06/2023
Edited by: Sophie Kennedy

About one per cent of breast cancer cases in the UK occur in males. Whilst it's a small percentage, its impact on the person, his family and friends can be as devastating as in women. We spoke with the highly-experienced consultant breast surgeon, Mr Kislaya Kumar Thakur, FRCS, to discuss this condition, including the risk factors, symptoms, tests and treatment.


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What is male breast cancer?


Male breast cancer is cancer of the male breast glandular tissue (yes, men have breast tissue too!). The most common types are: ductal (arising from ducts), lobular (arising from glandular tissue/lobules), Paget’s (involving ducts in the nipple). Less common types include inflammatory breast cancer.


Though much less common than in women, men need to be more aware of this condition as it tends to present at a later stage than in women.


How common is it?


In the UK, the chances are one in 900. In Europe, less than one per cent of all breast cancers are in men, though it varies around the world. In sub–Saharan Africa, five to fifteen per cent of breast cancers are in men.


In the UK, the ratio between men and women with breast cancer is 1:200. This has implications for treatment and prognosis.


What are the risk factors?


The main risk factor apart from older age (most male breast cancers are in the 60 to 70 age group) is overall increased circulating oestrogen in men (from within the body or given from outside) which can be caused by:

  • Testicular operations for undescended testes
  • Testicle damage because of past infections like mumps
  • Patients or people given therapeutic oestrogens in prostate cancer or transgender men who have had oestrogen treatment
  • Obesity or being significantly overweight
  • Chronic liver disease or scarring like cirrhosis
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome (XXY chromosomes instead of XY) with hormonal imbalance


Other risk factors include:

  • Strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer especially those with BRCA genetic mutations
  • Radiotherapy to the chest area during teenage years for lymphomas
  • Some ethnicities and ancestry are more prone (for example, black men living in Africa) to male breast cancer. It is less common in Japanese people.
  • Working in hot environments


What are the main symptoms of male breast cancer?


The main presentation for male breast cancers is with a breast lump or swelling (in seventy-five per cent of cases) and lumps in the armpit (axillary area). Usually these are painless to start with. The second most common is changes in the nipple area (nipple retraction, nipple discharge-clear/blood-stained, alteration, rash, ulceration etc).


When should I see a doctor?


Essentially, anyone with breast swelling or lump, especially in men over 45 to 50 years of age or with any of the symptoms or changes in the nipple as mentioned above.


Also, both women and men with risk factors should have a discussion with a specialist about modification of lifestyle factors and monitoring, screening or genetic testing


What tests are available to diagnose it?


Ultrasound as well as mammograms in men should be advised if there are any of the symptoms mentioned previously, or if there is any doubt. A needle test or biopsy (usually ultrasound-guided) is performed under local anaesthetic if any abnormality is found.


Once diagnosed, men with breast cancer might need staging tests like CT-scans, Nuclear medicine bone scans or MRI scans, amongst others to establish the extent of spread as this will determine the type and combination of treatments.


What treatments are offered?


Treatments are similar to those for women with breast cancer, with surgery being the most important. More men need mastectomy compared with women though it's less common for men to be suitable for breast conserving surgery.


They might also need lymph-node assessment from the armpit by a technique called Sentinel Node Biopsy. If nodal involvement is proven by this or at diagnosis by a needle test, then they would need removal of all lymph-nodes (Axillary Node Clearance).


The other treatments considered are radiotherapy (X-Ray treatment) or anti-hormonal treatment with tablets like Tamoxifen or Letrozole and chemotherapy (drug treatment given through veins).


What is the outlook for men with breast cancer?


Stage for stage, the prognosis is similar to breast cancer in women. However, as men present to doctors later because of lack of awareness, or other factors, they are often diagnosed with larger tumours or larger cancers at a higher stage involving skin, lymph-nodes or distant organs (forty-five per cent are diagnosed in stage 3 and 4).


So, the overall survival rate is worse in men because they present later and at a higher stage,  hence the need for increased awareness of breast cancer in men.




If you require breast cancer screening, we recommend booking an appointment with leading breast surgeon Mr Kislaya Kumar Thakur. Visit his Top Doctors profile for information on appointment availability.

By Mr Kislaya Kumar Thakur

Mr Kislaya Thakur is an experienced consultant general surgeon with a specialist interest in breast surgery. Practising at BMI The Blackheath Hospital and LycaHealth Orpington, Mr Thakur provides attentive and expert advice on all benign and malignant breast disease, including problems with breastfeeding and lactation, inflammatory disease, skin lesions and lumps. He is a strong advocate of greater patient awareness around breast cancer symptoms and runs a comprehensive screening service, covering family history and genetic testing. Mr Thakur also runs a wide general surgical practice covering hernias, haemorrhoids, fissures, and hydrocele.

Mr Thakur graduated in medicine from the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1988, then was awarded an MS-Masters in Surgery at the same institute in 1992, for his thesis on major trauma outcomes. In 1995 he moved to the UK and pursued specialist training at the Hedley Atkins Breast Unit, Guy’s Hospital and the HPB Unit at King’s College Hospital. He has been practising at consultant level since 2003. He is the lead for his local breast cancer MDT-Multi-Disciplinary Team and the Clinical Director for Cancer at his NHS Trust. In addition to his long experience as a surgical oncologist (cancer surgeon ) he has past experience of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, thus providing holistic advice pertaining to all aspects of breast cancer care. He also leads on the local LWABC-Living with and beyond cancer agenda.

In addition to his clinical practice, Mr Thakur has presented on related subjects at various national and international scientific meetings. He remains committed to teaching & training of undergraduates from GKT medical school and postgraduates from the London Deanery.

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