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Breast cancer in men - Symptoms and diagnosis

Breast cancer is often thought of as something that only affects women. But men can get it in rare cases. It develops in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples.

It usually occurs in men over 60, but can occasionally affect younger men.

Symptoms

The main symptom of breast cancer in men is a lump in the breast. The nipple or skin may also be affected.

See your GP if you have a breast lump or any other symptoms that you are worried about.

It's very unlikely you have cancer, but it's best to get checked out.

Breast lump

Cancerous breast lumps usually:

  • occur in one breast
  • develop under or around the nipple
  • are painless (but in rare cases they can hurt)
  • feel hard or rubbery
  • are less mobile, they don't move easily
  • feel bumpy rather than smooth
  • get bigger over time

Most lumps and swellings aren't a sign of cancer.

They're usually caused by something fairly harmless. This could be a gynaecomastia (enlarged male breast tissue), a lipoma (fatty lump) or a cyst (fluid-filled bump).

A GP can check your lump and refer you for tests and scans for breast cancer if needed.

Other symptoms

Other signs of breast cancer in men include:

  • the nipple turning inwards (inverted nipple)
  • fluid oozing from the nipple (nipple discharge), which may be streaked with blood
  • a sore or rash around the nipple that doesn't go away
  • the nipple or surrounding skin becoming hard, red or swollen
  • small bumps in the armpit (swollen glands)

Further symptoms may develop if the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs or liver.

These symptoms can include:

  • feeling tired all the time
  • aching or painful bones
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling sick
  • itchy skin with yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

Diagnosis

See your GP if you have symptoms of breast cancer. They will examine you and ask about your symptoms.

Your GP can refer you to a specialist breast clinic for the following scans and tests if needed.

Ultrasound scan

An ultrasound scan of your breast may be carried out to look for a lump in your breast and see if it's solid or filled with fluid. A solid lump is more likely to be cancerous.

An ultrasound scan uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your breasts.

You'll need to remove your top for the test. This involves a small device being moved over your chest to create an image on a screen.

Breast X-ray (mammogram)

Sometimes an X-ray of your breast, called a mammogram, may be carried out to look for any lumps or unusual areas.

Biopsy

If a lump or unusual area is found in your breast, a biopsy will be carried out to check if it's cancer.

This is where a small piece of breast tissue is removed using a needle. Local anaesthetic is used to numb your skin so the needle doesn't hurt.

The piece of tissue will be checked in a laboratory. This is to see if it contains any cancer cells and to find out more about the cells (such as whether hormone treatment might work).

Coping with a diagnosis

Being told you have breast cancer can cause a wide range of emotions. These could be shock, fear, confusion and, in some cases, embarrassment. Feelings of isolation are also common.

Speak to your GP or care team if you're struggling to come to terms with your diagnosis. They can offer support and advice.

You may also find it useful to talk to other men with the condition.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2019
Next review due: 16/05/2022