Male breast cancer: what are the symptoms?

Written by: Mr Hazem Khout
Published: | Updated: 27/01/2021
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Breast cancer can affect men as well as women. It is estimated that less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men and around 370 men are diagnosed each year in the UK. Male breast cancer is most common in older men, but it can occur at any age.

Would you be able to recognise the symptoms of male breast cancer? One of our leading oncoplastic surgeons Mr Hazem Khout explains everything that you need to know about the disease.

An elderly man looking into the camera

Can men develop breast cancer?

Men have breast tissue as well as women. However, men’s bodies normally produce less breast stimulating hormones. The lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is 1 in 833 for men compared to 1 in 8 for women. Male breast cancer is a very rare disease. Most affected men are over 60, although it may affect younger men as well.
 

What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?

Male breast cancer can present with one or more of the following symptoms:

 

  • Painless lump or hardening in the breast tissue
  • Change to the nipple including redness, scaling, inversion or discharge
  • Changes to the skin over the breast tissue such as indentation and puckering
  • Lumps under the armpit.
     

What to expect in the breast clinic?

The one-stop breast clinic will involve seeing your surgeon who will take a full history including family history, a clinical examination, which will be followed by doing scans (mammogram and ultrasound scan). If an abnormality is identified, a tissue sample will be taken under local anaesthetic.

The results of scans will be explained during the same visit. If a biopsy is taken during the visit it will take a few days to get the results back. All the results are discussed in a fully staffed multidisciplinary meeting.
 

What causes breast cancer in men?

Breast cancer happens when breast cells grow more rapidly than healthy cells. The causes of male breast cancer are not fully understood. There are risk factors for male breast cancer, which are very important to understand especially that men do not get routine screening and do not expect the possibility of getting breast cancer. Therefore, most men present at an advanced stage.
 

What are the risk factors for male breast cancer?

There are risk factors that increase the risk of male breast cancer such as:
 

  • Older age (over 60) with the average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer being about 68.
  • Exposure to a high level of oestrogen - this happens as a result of hormonal therapy for prostate cancer, liver diseases that reduce male hormones and an increase in female hormones, such as cirrhosis, Increased body weight and testicular diseases.
  • Radiation exposure.
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome - in this genetic syndrome boys are born with one copy of X chromosome. Klinefelter syndrome is a condition present at birth that affects about 1 in 1,000 men.
  • Family history of breast cancer and Inherited genetic mutations - a strong family history of breast cancer increases the risk especially if other men in the family have had breast cancer.
     

Men can also inherit genetic mutations that can cause breast cancer such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is approximately 1% with the BRCA1 gene mutation and 6% with the BRCA2 gene mutation. It must be said that most of the male breast cancer happen in men with no family history and no inherited genetic mutations.
 

At what age might male breast cancer typically occur?

The average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is about 68. However, it can affect men of any age. There has been a slight increase in the incidence of male breast cancer over the last few decades. This might be a true increase in incidence or a result of increased awareness of male breast cancer.
 

How is male breast cancer treated?

It's important to emphasise that men diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage have a very good chance for cure. The earlier stage breast cancer is diagnosed the better prognosis it has. Treatment of male breast cancer includes surgery to remove the breast tissue (mastectomy) and some, or all, of the lymph glands under the armpit. Most patient will require further treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy (Tamoxifen).

The treatment plan for each patient is discussed and decided in a multidisciplinary meeting to personalise the treatment according to the patient’s specific factors.


If you would like to discuss any unusual symptoms that you have noticed in your breast, you can make an appointment with Mr Khout via his Top Doctor’s profile here. Can’t make the appointment in person? He is also available for a video call using our e-Consultation tool, which can also be found on his profile.

By Mr Hazem Khout
Surgery

Mr Hazem Khout is a leading consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon based in Nottingham. His areas of expertise include breast cancer, cosmetic breast surgery, benign breast problems, immediate and delayed breast reconstruction, therapeutic mammoplasty, chest wall flaps and lipofilling.

Mr Khout graduated in 1998 and later completed his training in general surgery. He subsequently became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 2010, and two years later, he joined the Edinburgh Breast Unit for one year to obtain his breast oncoplastic fellowship.

Since 2013, Mr Khout has been practising as a consultant breast oncoplastic surgeon. He was appointed at the Nottingham Breast Institute in 2015 and also by the Public Health of England as a professional clinical advisor for the breast screening programme in the East Midlands.

Aside from his consultancy work, Mr Khout has a passion for educating undergraduate and postgraduate trainees, and by 2010, he was a fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK. Additionally, he holds research interests in the areas of new technologies for oncoplastic breast surgery, breast care genetics and breast cancer survivorship.

Mr Khout is the co-founder of the Nottingham Breast care clinic (NBC) at Nottingham Spire Hospital. He also leads on several projects at NHS and private sector including the unique Oncoplastic Forum (OPF) at the Nottingham Breast Institute. The project aims to deliver a patient-centred care by offering each patient with the utmost personalised care surgical plan. 

Mr Khout works within a team of oncoplastic and plastic surgeons, advanced breast practitioners and specialist breast nurses in his private practice based at Spire Nottingham. 

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