People of all genders and all sexes can get breast cancer because all humans have breast tissue. Males with breast cancer tend to get a later diagnosis. Knowing the signs of breast cancer in males can help a person get an early diagnosis and improve their chances of survival.

Breast cancer in males is uncommon, accounting for just 1 in 100 cases of the disease. However, transgender men have a higher risk of breast cancer than their cisgender male counterparts. And regardless of sex or gender, no group is immune to this disease.

Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer in men, comprising about 90% of cases.

Regular breast self-exams may help people detect the early signs of cancer, especially if they have a family history of the disease. It can also be helpful to be familiar with a person’s own body, making it easier to notice changes.

Read on to learn more about the signs of breast cancer in males, including the causes, outlook, and more.

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.

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Some of the most common signs of breast cancer in males include:

1. Lump or mass in the breast

A painless mass in the breast could indicate breast cancer. While it is possible for breast cancer to hurt, most people notice a mass that causes no pain. Additionally, breast cancer lumps can come in many sizes and shapes, but they are usually hard and do not move around in the breast tissue.

A mass is more likely to be cancer if a person finds it in one breast. However, it is possible to develop the disease in both breasts. Any breast lump warrants a doctor’s visit.

2. Nipple changes

It is not typical for the nipples to suddenly change, especially in a male who is not breastfeeding and does not have a recent injury or nipple piercings.

Therefore, a person should look for changes such as:

  • a nipple that puckers or changes shape
  • discharge of any color or volume from the nipple
  • a nipple that suddenly turns inward
  • a nipple that grows in size, becomes lopsided, or suddenly looks different from the other nipple
  • changes in nipple color
  • pain, itching, or scaling in the nipple
  • suddenly producing breast milk

3. Changes in the skin

Breast cancer tumors may pull on or change the skin. Some signs a person might notice include:

  • scaly, dry, or patchy skin on the breasts
  • dimples or puckering on the skin of the breasts
  • changes in the color of the breast skin

4. Other breast changes

The breasts can change for many reasons, including medications, hormones, and weight gain or loss. Breast changes, especially for no apparent reason, may signal breast cancer. Some signs to look for include:

  • a sudden growth of breast tissue, especially on just one side
  • pain or itching in or around the breast tissue
  • a change in the way breasts feel

5. Lymph node changes

Breast cancer can spread to surrounding lymph nodes. It may also cause lymph nodes to swell. A person should look out for:

  • swollen lymph nodes in the armpits, collarbone, or neck
  • swollen lymph nodes anywhere else in the body, especially if a person does not have an infection or the swelling does not go away
  • painful or tender lymph nodes, even if they are the same size as usual

People with breast cancer may have no other cancer symptoms. Moreover, the symptoms of the disease are vague, and many illnesses can cause them. Therefore, it is important to speak with a doctor, especially if a person has cancer symptoms and changes in their breasts. Some signs to look for include:

  • feeling very tired or weak
  • unexplained weight loss or gain of 10 pounds or more
  • lumps or swelling anywhere in the body, not just the breasts
  • feeling sick
  • unexplained pain
  • night sweats
  • changes in bladder or bowel habits

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast tissue grow out of control, building tumors that can damage the breasts and spread throughout the body.

Anyone can get breast cancer. However, conditions that affect hormone levels, especially estrogen, increase the risk of the disease.

Some risk factors include:

  • being over the age of 50 years
  • having certain genetic mutations, including BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • a family history of breast cancer
  • taking estrogen therapy
  • having radiation therapy, especially that targets the chest
  • having Klinefelter syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes a man to have an additional X chromosome
  • testicle injuries or surgery
  • being overweight or obese
  • having liver disease, especially cirrhosis

Diagnosing breast cancer in males begins with an exam and a medical history. Next, a doctor may recommend a mammogram or ultrasound to see inside the breast tissue and look for a tumor or any abnormalities. If the scan shows signs of a tumor or unexpected growths, a doctor will recommend a biopsy to test for cancer.

A doctor may also order additional testing of the tumor to determine the type of cancer and whether it carries certain genetic mutations that may affect treatments.

A 2019 paper recommends that transgender individuals should have regular breast cancer screenings if they undergo estrogen therapy for 5 years or longer.

Treatment for breast cancer in males is similar to treatment in females. It will also depend on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. In most cases, treatment begins with surgery to remove the tumor and, in some cases, the breast tissue and lymph nodes.

An oncologist may also recommend chemotherapy, radiation, or targeted treatments. For example, tamoxifen can treat breast cancers that are estrogen receptor-positive.

Options

For males, a mastectomy is often a suitable treatment option. However, it is important to discuss all treatment options with a doctor by asking questions such as:

  • What are my odds of survival?
  • Is the goal of treatment to cure the cancer or to prolong survival?
  • Has the cancer spread anywhere else in the body?
  • Are there any experimental therapies or clinical trials that might help?
  • Are there any lifestyle or health changes that might help with treatment side effects?

Males with breast cancer have an overall 5-year survival rate of 40–65%, depending on the stage of diagnosis. This is because males may not notice cancer as early as females, and their doctors may not consider the disease. As a result, their diagnosis may take longer.

It is important to consult a doctor as quickly as possible for any signs of breast cancer. Early discovery greatly increases the odds of survival and cure. Overall 5-year survival rates are as follows:

  • stage I: 75–100%
  • stage II: 50–80%
  • stage III: 30–60%
  • stage IV: 20–30%

Learn more about the stages of breast cancer in males.

A person’s sex and gender do not make them immune to cancer, including breast cancer. Humans are mammals, and all mammals have breast tissue.

While breast cancer is less common in males, it can occur and may even be fatal. Early detection is key to a good outcome.

Males should examine their breasts for changes and speak with a doctor if they develop a lump, change in breast shape, or other potential signs of breast cancer.