Male Breast Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

As a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a core part of our mission is to educate patients and the community about cancer. The following summary is trusted information from the NCI.

General Information about Male Breast Cancer

Breast cancer may occur in men. Men at any age may develop breast cancer, but it is usually detected (found) 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.

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. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Risk factors for breast cancer in men may include the following:

The genes in cells carry the hereditary information that is received from a person's parents. Hereditary breast cancer makes up approximately 5% to 10% of all breast cancer. Some altered genes related to breast cancer are more common in certain ethnic groups. Men who have an altered gene related to breast cancer have an increased risk of developing this disease.

Tests have been developed that can detect altered 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:

Lumps and other symptoms may be caused by male breast cancer. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be seen if changes in the breasts are noticed.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. The following are different types of biopsies:
  • Estrogen and progesterone receptor test: A test to measure the amount of estrogen and progesterone (hormones) receptors in cancer tissue. If cancer is found in the breast, tissue from the tumor is checked in the laboratory to find out whether estrogen and progesterone could affect the way cancer grows. The test results show whether hormone therapy may stop the cancer from growing.
  • HER2 test: A test to measure the amount of HER2 in cancer tissue. HER2 is a growth factor protein that sends growth signals to cells. When cancer forms, the cells may make too much of the protein, causing more cancer cells to grow. If cancer is found in the breast, tissue from the tumor is checked in the laboratory to find out if there is too much HER2 in the cells. The test results show whether monoclonal antibody therapy may stop the cancer from growing.

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.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer (whether it is in the breast only or has spread to other places in the body).
  • The type of breast cancer.
  • Estrogen-receptor and progesterone-receptor levels in the tumor tissue.
  • Whether the cancer is also found in the other breast.
  • The patient's age and general health.

Stages of Male Breast Cancer

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:

  • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • Bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.

The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:

  • Through tissue. Cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.
  • Through the lymph system. Cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels to other places in the body.
  • Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.

When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

There are 2 types of breast carcinoma in situ:

Pea, peanut, walnut, and lime show tumor sizes.

In stage I, cancer has formed. Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB.

Stage II is divided into stages IIA and IIB.

  • In stage IIA
    • no tumor is found in the breast, but cancer is found in the axillary lymph nodes (lymph nodes under the arm); or
    • the tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes; or
    • the tumor is larger than 2 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.
  • In stage IIB, the tumor is either:
    • larger than 2 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes; or
    • larger than 5 centimeters but has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

In stage IIIA:

  • no tumor is found in the breast. Cancer is found in axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may be found in lymph nodes near the breastbone; or
  • the tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone; or
  • the tumor is larger than 2 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that are attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone; or
  • the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters. Cancer has spread to axillary lymph nodes that may be attached to each other or to other structures, or cancer may have spread to lymph nodes near the breastbone.

In stage IIIB, the tumor may be any size and cancer:

Cancer that has spread to the skin of the breast is inflammatory breast cancer. See the section on Inflammatory Male Breast Cancer for more information.

In stage IIIC, there may be no sign of cancer in the breast or the tumor may be any size and may have spread to the chest wall and/or the skin of the breast. Also, cancer:

Cancer that has spread to the skin of the breast is inflammatory breast cancer. See the section on Inflammatory Male Breast Cancer for more information.

Stage IIIC breast cancer is divided into operable and inoperable stage IIIC.

In operable stage IIIC, the cancer:

  • is found in ten or more axillary lymph nodes; or
  • is found in lymph nodes below the collarbone; or
  • is found in axillary lymph nodes and in lymph nodes near the breastbone.

In inoperable stage IIIC breast cancer, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes above the collarbone.

In stage IV, the cancer has spread to other organs of the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain.

Inflammatory 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.

Recurrent Male Breast Cancer

Recurrent breast cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the breast, in the chest wall, or in other parts of the body.

Treatment Option Overview

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 Web site. Choosing the most appropriate cancer treatment is a decision that ideally involves the patient, family, and health care team.

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).

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.

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). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

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.

See Drugs Approved for Breast Cancer for more information.

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. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Monoclonal antibody therapy is a type of targeted therapy being studied in the treatment of male breast cancer.

Monoclonal antibody therapy uses antibodies made in the laboratory from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and 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. Monoclonal antibodies are also used in combination with chemotherapy as adjuvant therapy (treatment given after surgery to lower the risk that the cancer will come back).

Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is a monoclonal antibody that blocks the effects of the growth factor protein HER2.

Treatment Options for Male Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in men is treated the same as breast cancer in women. (See the PDQ summary on Breast Cancer Treatment for more information.)

Initial Surgery

Treatment for men diagnosed with breast cancer is usually modified radical mastectomy. Breast-conserving surgery with lumpectomy may be used for some men.

Adjuvant Therapy

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.

  • Node-negative: For men whose cancer is node-negative (cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes), adjuvant therapy should be considered on the same basis as for a woman with breast cancer because there is no evidence that response to therapy is different for men and women.
  • Node-positive: For men whose cancer is node-positive (cancer has spread to the lymph nodes), adjuvant therapy may include the following:

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).

Distant Metastases

Treatment for men with distant metastases (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body) may be hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or both. Hormone therapy may include the following:

Hormone therapies may be used in sequence (one after the other). Standard chemotherapy regimens may be used if hormone therapy does not work. Men usually respond to therapy in the same way as women who have breast cancer.

Treatment Options for Locally Recurrent Male Breast Cancer

For men with locally recurrent disease (cancer that has come back in a limited area after treatment), treatment is usually either:

To Learn More About Male Breast Cancer

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:



Cancer Care Services

Clinical Trials