Can men really get breast cancer?

Posted on 1 September 2015

Yes, they can – and most of them never see it coming. Dr Michiel Botha, a radiation oncologist at Mediclinic George, explains the risks.

Breast cancer sounds like the sort of disease that could only ever happen to women. But while men don’t have breasts like women, they do still have small amounts of breast tissue. (That tissue grows and develops in girls during puberty, but not in boys.) And because breast cancer attacks breast tissue, that means men are still at risk.

It is, of course, very rare in men: for every 100 cases diagnosed in women, only one or two cases are diagnosed in men.

‘Male breast cancer is very rare,’ says Dr Michiel Botha, ‘but unfortunately it’s every bit as dangerous as when it’s found in female patients. I don’t see more than one case of it every year or two, and when I do, it is usually in men who have palpable lumps. They tend to ignore it at first, but will eventually go to the doctor if the lump does not go away by itself, or if it becomes painful.’

Doctors used to believe that breast cancer was more dangerous in men than in women – but the truth is, the severity is about the same. It’s just that men tend to detect it much later than women do. Part of the problem is that it’s more difficult for a guy feeling with hands at home to detect a lump in his breast tissue. A bigger part of the problem is that most men have no idea that they’re at risk of it in the first place, so they don’t even think to check. As a result, the cancer is often only found once it’s spread to the surrounding tissue.

‘Early detection is just as important for men as it is for women,’ says Dr Botha. ‘I think that education is very important, since many men (including educated men) do not know that they can get breast cancer. Any man with a palpable nodule in his breast tissue should go to his doctor for evaluation.’

Dr Botha encourages men to regularly check for hard, painless lumps in their chest. If you feel something weird, go see a doctor. Chances are, it’s not breast cancer. But do you really want to take that bet?

Graeme Comrie was one of those men who found himself diagnosed with breast cancer. He shared his story with us.

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Cancer

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