Breast Cancer in men

Men's awareness of breast cancer in men before their diagnosis

Breast cancer in men is rare. There are about 390 men diagnosed each year in the UK. This compares to around 54,800 cases in women. (Cancer Research UK November 2016). Partly because campaigns to raise awareness of breast cancer in women have had such a ‘pink’ focus, many people are unaware that men can get breast cancer. The majority of the men we interviewed did not know that men could get breast cancer and so their diagnosis came as a particular shock. One said he had ‘never dreamt about it’, another that he ‘didn’t have a clue’, and another described how he had only considered breast cancer to be a ‘woman’s disease’. One man couldn’t believe that he had breast cancer. (See ‘Initial reactions to getting a breast cancer diagnosis’).

Although most lumps are not cancer, the most common symptom of breast cancer in men is a painless lump under the nipple or areola. This can also change both the appearance and direction of the nipple. Some men also experience nipple discharge or ulceration. The earlier breast cancer is treated, the better, so it is important to get any symptoms checked out as soon as possible. Common symptoms include:
  • lump around the nipple or any other area of the breast
  • a nipple turning in (inversion/inverted nipple)
  • changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • a rash affecting the nipple
  • discharge or bleeding from the nipple
  • a swelling or lump in the armpit
  • an ulcer on the skin of the breast
Even when men had some of these symptoms, they rarely suspected that they could have breast cancer. One man only mentioned his itching nipple to his doctor whilst he was visiting him for something else, not for a moment suspecting that it might be a symptom of breast cancer.
Another man, who found a lump in his breast, delayed seeing his GP for six months because he didn’t know that men could get breast cancer. His wife suggested that he see the doctor about it. Tom H said his daughter persuaded him to visit his GP after reading on the internet that changes in the breast or nipple could also be a symptom of breast cancer in men. One man suspected that the lump he had could be a cyst.
Some of the men who had no idea that men could get breast cancer before their own diagnosis were worried nonetheless when they found a lump or noticed another unusual symptom. This was the case for a few men with personal experience of cancer or who had worked in a medical environment.
The men who were already aware of breast cancer in men had heard about it from various sources. One man remembered reading an article about it many years before.
Other men who were aware of breast cancer usually had connections with a medical environment; John (Interview 25) had heard his wife, a phlebotomist, talking about a male patient being diagnosed with breast cancer, Tom (Interview 29) had a strong professional interest in understandings of risks, and others worked themselves within a hospital. Only one man, Bill, had known a man who had breast cancer prior to his own diagnosis. He was immediately worried when he found his lump.
However, knowing about the possibility of breast cancer in men did not necessarily mean that men immediately suspected that they could have breast cancer themselves when they first noticed an unusual symptom.

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated June 2017. Donate to


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