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Male breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.
Breast cancer may occur in men. Breast cancer may occur in men at any age, but it usually occurs in men between 60 and 70 years of age. Male breast cancer makes up less than 1% of all cases of breast cancer.
The following types of breast cancer are found in men:
Lobular carcinoma in situ (abnormal cells found in one of the lobes or sections of the breast), which sometimes occurs in women, has not been seen in men.
Anatomy of the male breast. The nipple and areola are shown on the outside of the breast. The lymph nodes, fatty tissue, ducts, and other parts of the inside of the breast are also shown.
A family history of breast cancer and other factors can increase a man's risk of breast cancer.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for breast cancer in men may include the following:
Male breast cancer is sometimes caused by inherited gene mutations (changes).
The genes in cells carry the hereditary information that is received from a person's parents. Hereditary breast cancer makes up about 5% to 10% of all breast cancer. Some mutated genes related to breast cancer, such as BRCA2, are more common in certain ethnic groups. Men who have a mutated gene related to breast cancer have an increased risk of this disease.
There are tests that can detect (find) mutated genes. These genetic tests are sometimes done for members of families with a high risk of cancer. See the following PDQ summaries for more information:
Men with breast cancer usually have lumps that can be felt.
Lumps and other signs may be caused by male breast cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
Tests that examine the breasts are used to diagnose breast cancer in men.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
If cancer is found, tests are done to study the cancer cells.
Decisions about the best treatment are based on the results of these tests. The tests give information about:
Tests include the following:
Survival for men with breast cancer is similar to survival for women with breast cancer.
Survival for men with breast cancer is similar to that for women with breast cancer when their stage at diagnosis is the same. Breast cancer in men, however, is often diagnosed at a later stage. Cancer found at a later stage may be less likely to be cured.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis and treatment options depend on the following:
After breast cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the breast or to other parts of the body.
After breast cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the breast or to other parts of the body. This process is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. Breast cancer in men is staged the same as it is in women. The spread of cancer from the breast to lymph nodes and other parts of the body appears to be similar in men and women.
The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.
In breast cancer, stage is based on the size and location of the primary tumor, the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body, tumor grade, and whether certain biomarkers are present.
To plan the best treatment and understand your prognosis, it is important to know the breast cancer stage.
There are 3 types of breast cancer stage groups:
The TNM system is used to describe the size of the primary tumor and the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
For breast cancer, the TNM system describes the tumor as follows:
Tumor (T). The size and location of the tumor.
Tumor sizes are often measured in millimeters (mm) or centimeters. Common items that can be used to show tumor size in mm include: a sharp pencil point (1 mm), a new crayon point (2 mm), a pencil-top eraser (5 mm), a pea (10 mm), a peanut (20 mm), and a lime (50 mm).
Lymph Node (N). The size and location of lymph nodes where cancer has spread.
When the lymph nodes are removed by surgery and studied under a microscope by a pathologist, pathologic staging is used to describe the lymph nodes. The pathologic staging of lymph nodes is described below.
cancer has spread to 4 to 9 axillary lymph nodes and cancer in at least one of the lymph nodes is larger than 2 millimeters. Cancer has also spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone on the same side of the body as the primary tumor, and the cancer is larger than 0.2 millimeters and is found by sentinel lymph node biopsy.
When the lymph nodes are checked using mammography or ultrasound, it is called clinical staging. The clinical staging of lymph nodes is not described here.
Metastasis (M). The spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
The grading system is used to describe how quickly a breast tumor is likely to grow and spread.
The grading system describes a tumor based on how abnormal the cancer cells and tissue look under a microscope and how quickly the cancer cells are likely to grow and spread. Low-grade cancer cells look more like normal cells and tend to grow and spread more slowly than high-grade cancer cells. To describe how abnormal the cancer cells and tissue are, the pathologist will assess the following three features:
For each feature, the pathologist assigns a score of 1 to 3; a score of "1" means the cells and tumor tissue look the most like normal cells and tissue, and a score of "3" means the cells and tissue look the most abnormal. The scores for each feature are added together to get a total score between 3 and 9.
Three grades are possible:
Biomarker testing is used to find out whether breast cancer cells have certain receptors.
Healthy breast cells, and some breast cancer cells, have receptors (biomarkers) that attach to the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are needed for healthy cells, and some breast cancer cells, to grow and divide. To check for these biomarkers, samples of tissue containing breast cancer cells are removed during a biopsy or surgery. The samples are tested in a laboratory to see whether the breast cancer cells have estrogen or progesterone receptors.
Another type of receptor (biomarker) that is found on the surface of all breast cancer cells is called HER2. HER2 receptors are needed for the breast cancer cells to grow and divide.
For breast cancer, biomarker testing includes the following:
Sometimes the breast cancer cells will be described as triple negative or triple positive.
It is important to know the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2 receptor status to choose the best treatment. There are drugs that can stop the receptors from attaching to the hormones estrogen and progesterone and stop the cancer from growing. Other drugs may be used to block the HER2 receptors on the surface of the breast cancer cells and stop the cancer from growing.
The TNM system, the grading system, and biomarker status are combined to find out the breast cancer stage.
Here are 3 examples that combine the TNM system, the grading system, and the biomarker status to find out the Pathological Prognostic breast cancer stage for a woman whose first treatment was surgery:
If the tumor size is 30 millimeters (T2), has not spread to nearby lymph nodes (N0), has not spread to distant parts of the body (M0), and is:
The cancer is stage IIA.
If the tumor size is 53 millimeters (T3), has spread to 4 to 9 axillary lymph nodes (N2), has not spread to other parts of the body (M0), and is:
The tumor is stage IIIA.
If the tumor size is 65 millimeters (T3), has spread to 3 axillary lymph nodes (N1a), has spread to the lungs (M1), and is:
The cancer is stage IV (metastatic breast cancer).
Talk to your doctor to find out what your breast cancer stage is and how it is used to plan the best treatment for you.
After surgery, your doctor will receive a pathology report that describes the size and location of the primary tumor, the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes, tumor grade, and whether certain biomarkers are present. The pathology report and other test results are used to determine your breast cancer stage.
You are likely to have many questions. Ask your doctor to explain how staging is used to decide the best options to treat your cancer and whether there are clinical trials that might be right for you.
The treatment of male breast cancer depends partly on the stage of the disease.
For treatment options for stage I, stage II, stage IIIA, and operable stage IIIC breast cancer, see Treatment of Early/Localized/Operable Male Breast Cancer.
For treatment options for cancer that has recurred (come back) near the area where it first formed, see Treatment of Locoregional Recurrent Male Breast Cancer.
For treatment options for stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer or breast cancer that has recurred in other parts of the body, see Treatment of Metastatic Male Breast Cancer.
In inflammatory breast cancer, cancer has spread to the skin of the breast and the breast looks red and swollen and feels warm. The redness and warmth occur because the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin. The skin of the breast may also show the dimpled appearance called peau d'orange (like the skin of an orange). There may not be any lumps in the breast that can be felt. Inflammatory breast cancer may be stage IIIB, stage IIIC, or stage IV.
There are different types of treatment for men with breast cancer.
Different types of treatment are available for men with breast cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website. Choosing the most appropriate cancer treatment is a decision that ideally involves the patient, family, and health care team.
Five types of standard treatment are used to treat men with breast cancer:
Surgery for men with breast cancer is usually a modified radical mastectomy (removal of the breast, many of the lymph nodes under the arm, the lining over the chest muscles, and sometimes part of the chest wall muscles). Modified radical mastectomy. The dotted line shows where the entire breast and some lymph nodes are removed. Part of the chest wall muscle may also be removed.
Breast-conserving surgery, an operation to remove the cancer but not the breast itself, is also used for some men with breast cancer. A lumpectomy is done to remove the tumor (lump) and a small amount of normal tissue around it. Radiation therapy is given after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left.Breast-conserving surgery. Dotted lines show the area containing the tumor that is removed and some of the lymph nodes that may be removed.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy).
See Drugs Approved for Breast Cancer for more information.
Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances made by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working.
Hormone therapy with tamoxifen is often given to patients with estrogen-receptor and progesterone-receptor positive breast cancer and to patients with metastatic breast cancer (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body).
Hormone therapy with an aromatase inhibitor is given to some men who have metastatic breast cancer. Aromatase inhibitors decrease the body's estrogen by blocking an enzyme called aromatase from turning androgen into estrogen. Anastrozole, letrozole, and exemestane are types of aromatase inhibitors.
Hormone therapy with a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonist is given to some men who have metastatic breast cancer. LHRH agonists affect the pituitary gland, which controls how much testosterone is made by the testicles. In men who are taking LHRH agonists, the pituitary gland tells the testicles to make less testosterone. Leuprolide and goserelin are types of LHRH agonists.
Other types of hormone therapy include megestrol acetate or anti-estrogen therapy, such as fulvestrant.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the area of the body with cancer.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy do. Monoclonal antibody therapy, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors, and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors are types of targeted therapies used to treat men with breast cancer.
Monoclonal antibodies are immune system proteins made in the laboratory to treat many diseases, including cancer. As a cancer treatment, these antibodies can attach to a specific target on cancer cells or other cells that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies are able to then kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.
Types of monoclonal antibody therapy include the following:
Tyrosine kinase inhibitors are targeted therapy drugs that block signals needed for tumors to grow. Lapatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that may be used to treat men with metastatic breast cancer.
Cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors are targeted therapy drugs that block proteins called cyclin-dependent kinases, which cause the growth of cancer cells. Palbociclib is a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor used to treat men with metastatic breast cancer.
Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors block a protein called mTOR, which may keep cancer cells from growing and prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow.
Treatment for male breast cancer may cause side effects.
For information about side effects caused by treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of early, localized, or operable breast cancer may include the following:
Treatment for men diagnosed with breast cancer is usually modified radical mastectomy.
Breast-conserving surgery with lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy may be used for some men.
Therapy given after an operation when cancer cells can no longer be seen is called adjuvant therapy. Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the operation, the patient may be given radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and/or targeted therapy after surgery, to try to kill any cancer cells that may be left.
These treatments appear to increase survival in men as they do in women. The patient's response to hormone therapy depends on whether there are hormone receptors (proteins) in the tumor. Most breast cancers in men have these receptors. Hormone therapy is usually recommended for male breast cancer patients, but it can have many side effects, including hot flashes and impotence (the inability to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse).
For men with locally recurrent disease (cancer that has come back in a limited area after treatment), treatment options include:
Treatment options for metastatic breast cancer (cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body) may include the following:
In men who have just been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that is hormone receptor positive or if the hormone receptor status is not known, treatment may include:
In men whose tumors are hormone receptor positive or hormone receptor unknown, with spread to the bone or soft tissue only, and who have been treated with tamoxifen, treatment may include:
In men with metastatic breast cancer that is hormone receptor positive and has not responded to other treatments, options may include targeted therapy such as:
In men with metastatic breast cancer that is HER2/neu positive, treatment may include:
In men with metastatic breast cancer that is hormone receptor negative, has not responded to hormone therapy, has spread to other organs or has caused symptoms, treatment may include:
Other treatment options
Other treatment options for metastatic breast cancer include:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about male breast cancer, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
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PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Male Breast Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/male-breast-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389417]
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Last Revised: 2021-01-08
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