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Breast cancer in men

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Both men and women have breast tissue. In men, most breast tissue is located behind the nipple. Women have a lot more breast tissue than men - and a much higher rate of breast cancer. Cancers can, however, occur in male breast tissue.

In 2014 (the most recent incidence data),140 Australian men were diagnosed with breast cancer. As our population ages, we are likely to see a gradual increase in the number of Australian men diagnosed with breast cancer each year. It is therefore increasingly important to provide information and support to affected men and their families.

In 2016, 28 men died of breast cancer in Australia. 

Symptoms of breast cancer in men

Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those for women and include:

  • a breast lump
  • thickening of the breast tissue
  • dimpling of the skin of the breast
  • change in shape of the breast or nipple
  • a discharge from the nipple
  • a painful area
  • swollen lymph nodes in the armpit area.

Causes of breast cancer in men

Some factors that can increase your risk of breast cancer in men include:

  • increase in age
  • family history of breast and some other cancers
  • high levels of oestrogen
  • Klinefelter's syndrome - a rare condition where men have two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome (XXY instead of XY).
Lifestyle factors that slightly increase the risk of breast cancer in men and women include:
  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking
  • being overweight
  • lack of physical activity

Diagnosis of breast cancer in men

Tests for diagnosing breast cancer in men are the same as those for women. They include mammography, breast ultrasound and biopsy.

Treatment for breast cancer in men

Treatment depends on the extent of the cancer. The main treatments are:


The main treatment for breast cancer in men is surgical removal of the breast (mastectomy). The whole breast is removed, including the nipple. Usually the pectoralis muscles under the breast do not need to be removed. Partial mastectomy is usually not a suitable option for men.

The lymph nodes (lymph glands) in the armpit area are usually also sampled at the time the mastectomy is performed. This may be done with

  • sentinel lymph node biopsy (If there is no sign of cancer in the lymph nodes on the imaging and examination before the surgery, the few lymph nodes closest to the cancer are sampled) or
  • axillary lymph node dissection (if it is known that there is cancer in the lymph nodes before surgery, then all of the lymph nodes may be removed.

Your surgeon will discuss the treatment options with you before the operation.


Radiotherapy is sometimes recommended after surgery with the aim of eradicating any cancer cells that may remain.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. It may be recommended after surgery, especially if cancer is seen in the lymph nodes.

Hormonal therapies

Hormonal therapies may be used in addition to other treatments. Hormonal therapies aim to block the effect of oestrogen or reduce the amount of oestrogen in the body. They are effective treatment for breast cancer that has oestrogen (ER) receptors. These are taken as tablets, usually for a five or ten year course.

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies use drugs to treat certain types of breast cancer. The most commonly used drug is Herceptin  - It is usually given in combination with chemotherapy.


Screening for breast cancer in men

Breast cancer screening for men is not recommended in Australia.

Side effects from treatment for breast cancer in men


You are likely to stay in hospital for several days after surgery. Some long-term effects may include:

  • pain or discomfort in your chest
  • shoulder stiffness
  • a build-up of fluid in the chest or arm which causes swelling (lymphodoema).


Common side effects include:

  • fatigue during treatment
  • red and dry skin around the treated area during treatment
  • skin looking darker, which can be a permanent change.


Side-effects from chemotherapy will depend on the types of drugs used and your individual reaction. Common side effects can include:

  • hair loss
  • nausea
  • mouth ulcers
  • changes to taste and smell
  • weight loss or gain
  • temporary or permanent infertility.

Hormonal therapies

The most common side effects for men include:

  • hot flushes
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • decreased sexual interest (libido).

Targeted therapies

Herceptin can cause heart problems in some people although this is not common.

Treatment team

Depending on your treatment, you may see a number of specialists such as:

  • a surgeon
  • a medical oncologist
  • a radiation oncologist
  • a breast care nurse
  • an oncology nurse
  • other allied health professionals such as a social worker, physiotherapist, dietitian or counsellor.


Prognosis for breast cancer in men

While it is not possible to predict precise outcomes, your doctor may give you a prognosis - a prediction of the likely course of the disease and your response to treatment. 

Preventing breast cancer in men

There is no proven method of preventing breast cancer in men.

Useful websites


Understanding Breast Cancer  © Cancer Council Australia 2016. Last medical review of this booklet July 2016.

Men Get Breast Cancer Too  © Breast Cancer Network Australia 2016.

Cancer Australia,


For more information

For support and information on cancer and cancer-related issues, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 (cost of a local call). This is a confidential service.


Includes additional information on treatment, making decisions around treatment and managing side effects of breast cancer treatment.

Also included, detailed information on looking after yourself during and after treatment, and links to both professional and community support.

How you can help

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  • volunteering your time
  • participating in an event or
  • making a donation to help fund our cancer research, education and support services.

This page was last updated on: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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