Men possess a small amount of nonfunctioning breast tissue (breast tissue that cannot produce milk) that is concentrated in the area directly behind the nipple on the chest wall. Like breast cancer in women, cancer of the male breast is the uncontrolled growth of the abnormal cells of this breast tissue.
Breast tissue in both young boys and girls consists of tubular structures known as ducts. At puberty, a girl’s ovaries produce female hormones (estrogen) that cause the ducts to grow and milk glands (lobules) to develop at the ends of the ducts. The amount of fat and connective tissue in the breast also increases as girls reach puberty. On the other hand, male hormones (such as testosterone) secreted by the testes suppress the growth of breast tissue and the development of lobules. The male breast, therefore, is made up of predominantly small, undeveloped ducts and a small amount of fat and connective tissue.
How common is male breast cancer?
Male breast cancer is a rare condition, accounting for only about 1% of all breast cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2010, about 1,970 new cases of breast cancer in men would be diagnosed and that breast cancer would cause approximately 390 deaths in men (in comparison, almost 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year). Breast cancer is 100 times more common in women than in men. Most cases of male breast cancer are detected in men between the ages of 60 and 70, although the condition can develop in men of any age. A man’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is about 1/10 of 1%, or one in 1,000.
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
What are male breast cancer symptoms and signs?
By Kathleen Doheny
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Some men are notorious foot-draggers, especially when it comes to scheduling doctor visits. That’s unfortunate. Routine preventive care can find cancerin men and other diseases in the early stages, when there are more options for treatment and better chances of a cure. Some men, though, would never go to the doctor except for the women in their life. According to Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society, women are often the ones who push men to get screened for cancer.
Experts say that men could benefit greatly by being alert to certain cancer symptoms that indicate a trip to the doctor’s office sooner rather than later. Some of those cancer symptoms in men are specific. They involve certain body parts and may even point directly to the possibility of cancer. Other symptoms are more vague. For instance, pain that affects many body parts could have dozens of explanations and may not be cancer. But that doesn’t mean you can rule out cancer without seeing a doctor.
If you’re like most men, you’ve probably never considered the possibility of having breast cancer. Although it’s not common, it is possible. “Any new mass in the breast area of a man needs to be checked out by a physician,” Lichtenfeld says.
In addition, the American Cancer Society identifies several other worrisome signs involving the breast that men as well as women should take note of. They include:
- Skin dimpling or puckering
- Nipple retraction
- Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge
When you consult your physician about any of these signs, expect him to take a careful history and do a physical exam. Then, depending on the findings, the doctor may order a mammogram, a biopsy, or other tests.