Breast Cancer in men

Making choices about treatment for men with breast cancer

Because breast cancer in men is rare, about 350 men each year are diagnosed, less than 1% of all breast cancers diagnosed each year in the UK (Cancer Research UK July 2014), most medical information about the best ways to treat breast cancer is based on clinical trials of treatment for women with breast cancer. Surgery is usually the first form of treatment a man with breast cancer will have. Men have much less breast tissue than women and so it is usually necessary to remove all of their breast tissue and the nipple on the affected side (a mastectomy). When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer it is sometimes possible for her to have a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy but this is not usually possible for men. Sometimes the chest muscle is also removed during surgery if this has been affected or if the lump was very close to the muscle. The surgeon will usually remove at least one of the lymph nodes to check whether there are any signs of the cancer there. After surgery, a man may be offered other treatments, including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone treatment, depending on the characteristics of his particular cancer. Men may also be offered the option of reconstruction following surgery (see ‘Reconstruction).

The small amount of breast tissue that men have can mean that surgical options are more limited for men than they are for women. Most of the men we interviewed accepted that their treatment choices were limited and they went along with what was recommended by their doctor. The relatively small numbers of men who are diagnosed with breast cancer means that it is more unusual for men to be included in any randomised trials of new treatment options.
A few men reflected that leaving decisions about their treatment to the doctor had been the right thing to do because the treatment had been effective.
Some men did feel frustrated by the lack of choice, even though they accepted the treatments that were recommended to them.
 
 
Some of the men had been given options when their treatment was discussed. This could be about the type of surgery they had or whether to have chemotherapy, radiotherapy or hormone treatment. Occasionally men chose not to have some of the treatment offered to them, or they sought information about alternatives.
Occasionally men chose not to have some of the treatment offered to them, or they sought information about alternatives.
Being given a choice about treatments can also make people feel responsible if things go wrong – which can be burdensome.
 


Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated June 2017.

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