Every year there are 55,122 incidents of breast cancer in the UK alone. Whilst most cases of breast cancer are female, men can be affected by breast cancer too. It can sometimes be easy to forget that men can get breast cancer because there are so few diagnoses each year. For example in 2015, just 370 men were diagnosed. However, male breast cancer is just as serious and difficult for those affected as female breast cancer.

As part of Men’s Health Week, we wanted to discuss male breast cancer, how it affects the person diagnosed and what support is available to help you. 

Men can get breast cancer?

It’s true, men can get breast cancer. Smaller amounts of breast tissue and lower levels of circulating oestrogen mean that it’s far less common for a man to experience breast cancer than a woman, but in rare cases it does happen.

Much like women, breast cancer develops in the breast tissue behind a man’s nipples and usually occurs in men over the age of sixty but can also affect younger men.

How should I look out for symptoms?

It’s important to regularly check yourself for breast cancer. Signs of breast cancer can include:

  • A lump in the breast (most commonly a painless lump)
  • Fluid or discharge around the nipple area
  • A rash around the nipple
  • Lumps in and around the armpit
  • An inverted (retracted) nipple

Risk factors

There are also a few risk factors that can contribute towards the likelihood of developing male breast cancer. Having one or all of these factors does not mean you will definitely develop breast cancer, however it’s important to be aware of them and to contact your GP if you have any concerns.

Getting older

Simply getting older is the biggest risk factor of breast cancer in men. Most cases occur in men over 60 years old.

High oestrogen levels

It is natural for men to produce a small amount of the hormone oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen however have been linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Having high oestrogen levels is sometimes passed down genetically, but can also be caused by obesity and long-term liver conditions.

Exposure to radiation

Men that have spent a lot of time exposed to radiation are more likely to develop breast cancer. For example, if they have had radiation treatment for a condition such as Hodgkin disease.

Alcohol consumption

Heavy and regular consumption of alcohol can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. 

A family history of breast cancer

A family history of breast cancer can be the result of a faulty gene, which is passed down from parents to their children. This means that a family history of breast cancer may give you an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Men that inherit this faulty gene still have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than women. 

The impact of breast cancer

The impact of breast cancer on a person can be very difficult physically and mentally. Being diagnosed can often lead to feelings of fear and uncertainty. Many men report feeling embarrassed and even emasculated after being diagnosed with breast cancer as it is so closely associated with women.

In addition, breast cancer treatment can take a significant physical toll on your body. Treatment for male breast cancer is similar to treatment for breast cancer in women and may involve a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. Chemotherapy may also be necessary during treatment.

If you have breast cancer, it’s important to be aware of the fact that you’re not alone. Men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and there are services such as those at Breast Cancer Haven that exist to help you cope with how you are feeling and what you are experiencing.

What if it isn’t me that has been diagnosed with breast cancer?

When a person develops breast cancer, it’s quite common for the people surrounding them to also be impacted significantly by the diagnosis. Friends and loved ones often find it difficult to know what to do or how to process the stress and worry. Your feelings are important to acknowledge and address, even if you’re not directly affected by breast cancer; support is still available to help you.

At Breast Cancer Haven, we don’t just offer support for those who have been diagnosed. Four hours' of free counselling are available to family members and close friends of people that have been diagnosed with breast cancer to help you cope with the situation better and come to terms with the emotions you may be feeling.

Male breast cancer support at Breast Cancer Haven

Breast cancer does not discriminate by gender and neither does Breast Cancer Haven. We understand how difficult a diagnosis of breast cancer can be and aim to help everyone affected by breast cancer through a tailored programme of support that will restore the confidence and strength of you and your loved ones.  

Register for free breast cancer support at your local Breast Cancer Haven centre today