Not Just a ‘Girl’s Cancer’

Men can develop breast cancer and face the same consequences as women who have the disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Although men are rarely diagnosed with breast cancer, they face the same consequences women do if they develop the disease.

According to the Breast Cancer Foundation, men make up about 1 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses but carry the same risks as women. Men have a small amount of normal breast tissue behind the nipple, and although it isn’t as developed as it is in women, the tissue can undergo malignant change.

Many men are not even aware they can develop the disease, however, which can lead to delayed diagnosis and dire consequences. As a result, many men ignore suspicious lumps in breast tissue. Most men who get breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease, as is the case with many women. Family history and age play a role in the risk of developing the disease, however.    

The physiological damage of male breast cancer is also significant.

For a lot of men, developing breast cancer is “getting a 'girl's cancer' - this is something that men don't get," said Dr. Marli Gregory of the foundation. Men with the disease are likely to feel isolated and alone. They may “imagine sitting by himself surrounded by all these women" in a clinic, said Gregory.

Probable risk factors for developing breast cancer in men include heavy alcohol intake and being overweight, both of which increase estrogen. Radiation exposure in the chest area (such as that administered in treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma) has also been associated with development of the cancer.

Symptoms of male breast cancer usually include a firm, non-painful mass located just below the nipple. Dimpling, puckering and/or ulceration of the skin around the nipple is common. The average size of a cancerous lump is about 2.5 centimeters in diameter when it is first detected. A bloody or opaque discharge may occur.  

Treatment includes surgical removal of the lump and surrounding tissue and standard follow-up care, which may include relevant drugs and chemotherapy or radiation.

Gregory also encourages men affected with the disease to join an online support group.


Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 29, 2010
Last Updated:
November 30, 2010