Breast cancer can develop in anyone, but it is more common in females than males. There are differences and similarities in the causes and risk factors of male and female breast cancer.
Learning the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can help people know when and how to get help. It is also possible for a person to take preventative steps to reduce their chance of developing breast cancer.
This article discusses the similarities and differences between female and male breast cancer. It also looks at causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the
According to the
Breast cancer is much less common in males, who account for around
Prevalence based on ethnicity
White females are more likely to develop breast cancer than those of other ethnicities. However, Black females are more likely to develop aggressive breast cancer. They are also more likely to die from the illness.
Black males have the highest incidence of breast cancer among males.
Based on figures from 2013 to 2017, the
|Ethnicity||Number of females per 100,000||Number of males per 100,000|
|American Indian/Alaskan Native||94.9||0.6|
There are two reasons why breast cancer is more common in females than males.
Breast development and anatomy
Both male and female breast tissue consists of a few ducts under the nipple and areola until puberty. During puberty, females develop increased levels of certain hormones which cause these ducts to grow and lobules to form.
The more that cells divide, the more chance there is of cancer occurring. Breast cells grow and divide as a response to the hormone estrogen, which females typically produce more of than males.
BreastCancer.org notes that breast cells in females are highly active and receptive to estrogen, while breast cells in males are inactive and not exposed to high estrogen levels.
Healthcare professionals do not fully understand the causes of breast cancer. However, there are known risk factors. Some vary between males and females, and some are shared.
Risk factors for males
- Klinefelter syndrome: Males with this syndrome are born with an extra X chromosome and have higher estrogen levels compared with other males. As a result, they can develop gynecomastia, which is the growth of breast tissue in males. This syndrome can increase the chance of developing breast cancer by
- Genetic mutations: Mutations in the CHEK2, PTEN, and PALB2 genes can lead to breast cancer in males.
- Testicular conditions: These include having an undescended testicle, having one or more testicles surgically removed, or having mumps as an adult. Mumps can lead to a
decreasein the size of the testicle.
Risk factors for females
Female-specific risk factors include:
- Being female: Females have a much higher rate of getting breast cancer than males.
- Menstrual factors: According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, starting menstruation before age 12 and beginning menopause after 55 are breast cancer risk factors.
- Reproductive factors: Giving birth for the first time at an older age or never giving birth increases the risk.
- Dense breast tissue: The
ACSnotes that lumps can be more difficult to detect in females than males since female breast tissue tends to be denser.
Shared risk factors
While there have not been as many studies of male breast cancer as there have of female breast cancer, researchers have identified the
According to the
Male breast cancer rates also increase with age, and males are often diagnosed much later, at
Inherited gene mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase the chance of breast cancer in females and males.
Females with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a
Family history of breast cancer
The risk of developing breast cancer is about
Other risk factors for breast cancer include:
- previous breast cancer
- alcohol consumption
- physical inactivity
- previous exposure to radiation
Breast cancer symptoms usually include a lump, or multiple lumps, in the breast area or under the armpit. These lumps typically:
- occur in one breast
- appear under or around the nipple
- feel hard
- do not move around
- feel bumpy
- grow over time
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) notes that most breast lumps are noncancerous.
In males, breast lumps can occur due to enlarged male breast tissue, a fatty lump called a lipoma, or a cyst. In females, they can occur as a result of tissue growth called fibroadenoma or a cyst.
Other symptoms of breast cancer include:
- discharge from the nipple
- a change in the feel and look of the skin, such as dimpling
- a rash, crusting, or scaly and itchy skin around the nipple
- changes to the nipple, such as turning inwards
- the surrounding skin becoming hard or thickened
If a person notices any symptoms of breast cancer, they should seek medical advice.
To determine if a person has breast cancer, a doctor will perform an examination and a symptom assessment. After the exam, they may order a mammogram and breast ultrasound.
For a lump that the doctor suspects may be cancerous, they will request a biopsy to confirm.
If the results are positive, a doctor will advise the person on the best treatment plan. Imaging tests such as CT and MRI scans can help a doctor diagnose the stage of breast cancer and determine if it has spread elsewhere in the body.
Doctors use the same treatment options for both female and male breast cancer, including:
- surgery to remove either a part or all the breast
- hormone therapy
- radiation therapy
Treatment may require a combination of therapies.
While there is no guaranteed way to avoid getting breast cancer, there are ways a person can reduce their chances of developing the disease.
Prevention starts at home with frequent self-examinations. To perform a breast exam, a person should:
- Examine the breasts in a mirror from all angles. Look for any changes in color or texture or lumps that were not there before.
- Raise the arms and look for the same changes.
- Examine the nipples to see if there is any discharge.
- Lie down and examine the left breast with the fingers of the right hand. Press down in a circular motion on all parts of the breast and armpit areas, feeling for lumps.
- Use the fingers of the left hand to examine the right breast in the same way.
- Repeat steps 4 and 5, either standing or sitting.
- genetic testing for those who have a family history of breast cancer
- exercising to stay physically fit and maintain a moderate weight
- eating a healthy diet that includes more fruits and vegetables
A person can contact a doctor at any time to learn more about their risk of developing breast cancer and for prevention advice.
People should also contact a doctor if they notice any symptoms of breast cancer, such as an unusual lump or a change in the shape, feel, or appearance of the breast.
Breast cancer can develop in anyone. However, due to differences in breast development and lifetime exposure to estrogen, it is more common in females than males.
Males and females share some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing breast cancer. Other risk factors are specific to a person’s sex.
People should contact a healthcare professional if they notice any symptoms of breast cancer.