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Male Breast Cancer Symptoms and Signs

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Updated October 15, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Many are surprised to learn that men are vulnerable to breast cancer, just like women, and so the idea of male breast cancer (MBC) symptoms may seem like a foreign one. While women certainly develop the disease at higher rates than men, about 1900 men develop male breast cancer in the United States each year. It is rare for men to develop this disease, but awareness is still important. Learning the signs and symptoms of male breast cancer is helpful for earlier detection and treatment.

Male Breast Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms are those things that only you, as the patient, notice. Signs are things that are observable by a doctor. Like most diseases, male breast cancer has some symptoms and signs that are more common than others. In this excerpt, provided by UpToDate-- an electronic resource used by many patients and their doctors looking for in-depth medical information-- you can see that a breast lump and changes in the nipple are two significant warnings:

"MBC typically presents as a painless, firm mass that is usually subareolar, less often in the upper outer quadrant. The left breast is involved slightly more often than the right, and fewer than 1 percent of cases are bilateral.

"Other findings at presentation include nipple retraction, ulceration of the nipple or skin, fixation to skin or underlying muscle, tumor tenderness, and palpable axillary nodes. The reported rate of nipple involvement is 40 to 50 percent, possibly because of the scarcity of breast tissue, and the central location of most tumors. Serosanguinous or bloody nipple discharge is unusual."

This means that breast cancer in men usually causes a lump or mass in the left breast. It can also occur in the right breast, but usually not in both. While nipple discharge is not a common symptom, inverted nipples, changes of the skin on the nipple and around the breast can occur. Lymph nodes found in the armpit (axillary nodes) may be enlarged and able to be felt, depending on how far the cancer has spread.

What to Do If You Have the Symptoms of Male Breast Cancer

Male breast cancer is just as serious as the breast cancers that women develop, so do not delay in seeing your doctor. Men typically wait for symptoms to go away or become worse before seeking medical attention, and this is definitely not a scenario when this is recommended. Certainly other conditions can cause breast lumps and nipple changes, but these issues absolutely must be evaluated by a physician.

Benign (non-cancerous) lumps can occur in the breast, but are rare in men. Women are much more likely to develop benign lumps. Another benign condition called gynecomastia increases the amount of breast tissue in men, and lumps can develop as a result. There are varying causes of gynecomastia, and it is important to determine the cause, so be sure to see your doctor if this is a concern for you.

Want to learn more? See UpToDate's topic, "Male Breast Cancer," for additional in-depth medical information.

Source:

Gradishar, William J. "Male Breast Cancer." UpToDate. Accessed: October 2009.

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