Men with breast cancer

Breast cancer is not just a woman’s disease. In men, it is rare, in the Netherlands about 100 men get breast cancer each year. Of all breast cancer patients, one in 150 people. In men, it mainly occurs in the age group 60-84 years, in women that are between 50 and 70 years. Young men with breast cancer are very rare. Another word for breast cancer is breast cancer. 

Similarities and differences with women

Although breast cancer is more common in women than in men, there are many similarities. Therefore, the treatment for breast cancer in men is derived from that of women.

Yet there are some differences between breast cancer in men and women. The most important are:

The average age at which men get breast cancer is 68 years. This is 61 years for women.

In men with breast cancer, there is more often a hereditary predisposition. Approximately 10% of men have received the disease due to a hereditary disorder, often in the BRCA1 gene or BRCA2 gene. This is about 5% of women. Read more about heredity and breast cancer men.

In men, breast-conserving surgery is almost never possible. That is because men have less breast tissue.

Compared with women, breast cancer is more often discovered in men at a later stage. The tumor is already larger and more often spread to lymph nodes in the armpit, or to other places in the body. As a result, the prognosis for men is on average worse than for women.

For women, there is the breast cancer screening program. Because breast cancer is rare in men, this population screening is not available for men.

Anatomy chest man

The chest of a grown man looks like a girl’s breast before puberty. Both have a few milk ducts just behind and next to the nipple. In girls, the milk ducts, mammary glands, adipose tissue, and connective tissue develop into a full-grown breast under the influence of female hormones. This development is mainly due to the influence of the hormone estrogen. Boys and men produce little estrogen. That is why the existing breast tissue does not develop any further.


An exception to this is men with a gynecomastia. This is a condition in which one or both breasts develop. Gynecomastia is most common in puberty and is probably caused by a disturbance in hormone levels.


For men, this is often an unpleasant development, especially for the appearance. But the condition itself is not dangerous and does not pose a higher risk of breast cancer. However, it is important to have the cause of a gynecomastia investigated.


Breast cancer in men often later discovered

Breast cancer is usually discovered late in men if there are obvious symptoms. Moreover, complaints are not always immediately considered breast cancer. The men themselves, but also caregivers, are less alert to the possibility of breast cancer in men. As a result, the stage at which breast cancer is discovered for men is often higher than for women. A higher disease stage usually also means a poorer prognosis. At the same stage of disease men and women have a similar prognosis.

Because breast cancer is rare in men, there is no population screening for them.


Symptoms in breast cancer men

Some changes in the breast may indicate breast cancer. The most common change is a lump. This is a thickening that feels firmer than the surrounding tissue. Usually, nodules do not hurt. Breast cancer in men can occur at all places in the chest. Usually, the tumor is in the vicinity of the nipple. That is where the most breast tissue is located. In men, a lump is usually felt next to or behind the nipple or the areola. (The areola is the pink or dark colored tissue around the nipple).


  • Other complaints that may indicate breast cancer:
  • dents or dimples in the skin
  • a wound of the skin that does not heal
  • change of the nipple or areola, for example, withdrawal, swelling, redness, skin formation, flakes or a spot resembling eczema
  • discharge from the nipple, such as brown or bloody fluid
  • a chest that feels warm and red
  • a thickened skin with pits in it. The skin of the breast then looks like an orange peel.