Published on Nov 12, 2018
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team
When most people think of breast cancer, the chances are they don’t think about men. Most information and many of the images about breast cancer are geared toward women. The numbers, however, remind us that breast cancer does occur in men. In 2018, it is estimated that in Australia:
In New Zealand, 26 men were diagnosed with breast cancer and 2 men died from it in 2013.
The good news is that about 85% of men who are diagnosed with breast cancer are still alive 5 years later.
Many people are unaware that men can develop breast cancer because they do not think of men as having breasts. The fact is, however, that both men and women have breast tissue.
Part of the reason for this lack of awareness could be the relative rarity of male breast cancer, which means that there are fewer patients who could be studied by researchers.
Because men have less breast tissue than women, lumps may be easier to find. Unfortunately, having less breast tissue also means that the cancer can spread more easily to the nipple, the skin covering the breast, or the muscles under the breast. This can lead to a poorer outcome for men with breast cancer.
Despite the potential to feel lumps more easily, the lack of awareness of physical symptoms (by patients and doctors) can result in up to 2 years in delay between symptoms and diagnosis. Men tend to have limited knowledge of this disease and the accompanying warning signs such as lumps. This often leads to a delay in seeking help and ultimately results in later diagnosis.
Public awareness may also play a role in the delay. For example, awareness of breast cancer in women may be higher because of widespread women’s advocacy, education, screening programs such as annual breast exams, and breast cancer-related health campaigns—initiatives that don’t exist for male breast cancer.
Because breast cancer is seen as a female illness, men may be embarrassed about a change in their breast or chest area and put off seeing a doctor. Men may also be afraid that people will question their masculinity.
The disease can cause distress for men and have a negative effect on their sense of self, body image, and sexuality.
Risk factors for male breast cancer include:
Symptoms of male breast cancer include:
Always talk with your GP if you have any questions about the disease and to learn if you should be screened for it.
Last reviewed: 19/08/2020
- Breast Cancer Network Australia
- Cancer Council: Breast Cancer in Men
- Cancer Australia: Check your cancer risk
- Rare Cancers Australia
- Breast Cancer Foundation NZ
- Cancer Society NZ