National Cancer Institute


Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of male breast cancer.

This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of male breast cancer. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.

This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Male Breast Cancer Treatment

General Information About Male Breast Cancer

Incidence and Mortality

Estimated new cases and deaths from breast cancer (men only) in the United States in 2017:

  • New cases: 2,470.
  • Deaths: 460.

Male breast cancer is rare. Less than 1% of all breast carcinomas occur in men. The mean age at diagnosis is between 60 and 70 years, though men of all ages can be affected with the disease.

Risk Factors

Predisposing risk factors appear to include radiation exposure, estrogen administration, and diseases associated with hyperestrogenism, such as cirrhosis or Klinefelter syndrome. Definite familial tendencies are evident with an increased incidence seen in men who have a number of female relatives with breast cancer. An increased risk of male breast cancer has been reported in families with mutations, although the risks appear to be higher with inherited than with mutations. Genes other than may also be involved in predisposition to male breast cancer, including mutations in the tumor suppressor gene, (Li-Fraumeni syndrome), mutations, and mismatch repair mutations associated with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

Histopathology

The pathology is similar to that of female breast cancer, and infiltrating ductal cancer is the most common tumor type. Intraductal cancer has been described as well. Inflammatory carcinoma and Paget disease of the nipple have also been seen in men, but lobular carcinoma has not. Lymph node involvement and the hematogenous pattern of spread are similar to those found in female breast cancer. The TNM staging system for male breast cancer is identical to the staging system for female breast cancer. (Refer to Histopathologic Classification of Breast Cancer in the General Information About Breast Cancer section and Definitions of TNM and AJCC Stage Groupings in the Stage Information for Breast Cancer section in the PDQ summary on Breast Cancer Treatment for more information.)

Prognostic Factors

Prognostic factors that have been evaluated include the size of the lesion and the presence or absence of lymph node involvement, both of which correlate well with prognosis. Estrogen-receptor and progesterone-receptor status and gene amplification should be reported.

Survival

Overall survival is similar to that of women with breast cancer. The impression that male breast cancer has a worse prognosis may stem from the tendency toward diagnosis at a later stage.

Treatment Options for Male Breast Cancer

The approach to the treatment of breast cancer in men is similar to that in women. Because male breast cancer is rare, there is a lack of randomized data to support specific treatment modalities. As in women, men with early-stage breast cancer are treated with locoregional therapy with surgery plus or minus radiation and systemic therapy with endocrine therapy, chemotherapy, and -directed therapies.

Initial Surgical Management

Primary standard treatment is a modified radical mastectomy with axillary dissection. Responses are generally similar to those seen in women with breast cancer. Breast conservation surgery with lumpectomy and radiation therapy has also been used and results have been similar to those seen in women with breast cancer. (Refer to Surgery in the Early/Localized/Operable Breast Cancer section in the PDQ summary on Breast Cancer Treatment for more information.)

Adjuvant Therapy

In men with node-negative tumors, adjuvant therapy should be considered on the same basis as for a woman with breast cancer since there is no evidence that response to therapy is different for men or women.

In men with node-positive tumors, both chemotherapy plus tamoxifen and other hormonal therapy have been used and can increase survival to the same extent as in women with breast cancer. Currently, no controlled studies have compared adjuvant treatment options. Approximately 85% of all male breast cancers are estrogen receptor–positive, and 70% of them are progesterone receptor–positive. Response to hormone therapy correlates with presence of receptors. Hormonal therapy has been recommended in all receptor-positive patients. Tamoxifen use, however, is associated with a high rate of treatment-limiting symptoms, such as hot flashes and impotence in male breast cancer patients. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Hot Flashes and Night Sweats for more information on these symptoms.) Responses are generally similar to those seen in women with breast cancer. (Refer to Postoperative Systemic Therapy and Preoperative Systemic Therapy in the Early/Localized/Operable Breast Cancer section in the PDQ summary on Breast Cancer Treatment for more information.)

  • CMF: cyclophosphamide plus methotrexate plus fluorouracil.
  • CAF: cyclophosphamide plus doxorubicin plus fluorouracil.
  • Trastuzumab.
  • Tamoxifen.

In regard to endocrine therapy, tamoxifen is generally used instead of an aromatase inhibitor (AI) as the data supporting the use of an AI in men with breast cancer are limited. A retrospective analysis of 257 men with stage I to III breast cancer included 50 men treated with an AI and 207 men treated with tamoxifen. With a median follow-up of 42 months, treatment with an AI was associated with a higher risk of death compared with tamoxifen (32% with AI vs. 18% with tamoxifen; hazard ratio,1.55; 95% confidence interval, 1.13–2.13). These findings suggest that tamoxifen should be used rather than an AI as adjuvant endocrine therapy for men with breast cancer.

The use of AI therapy with a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LH-RH) agonist has been reported in several cases in the literature. The German Breast Group is conducting a randomized phase II clinical trial () of tamoxifen with or without gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogue versus AI plus GnRH analogue in men with early-stage hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, and results are pending.

Hormonal modalities include:

  • Tamoxifen.
  • Aromatase inhibitors with LH-RH agonist.

Locally Recurrent Disease

Surgical excision or radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy is recommended. Responses are generally similar to those seen in women with breast cancer. (Refer to the Metastatic Breast Cancer section in the PDQ summary on Breast Cancer Treatment for more information.)

Distant Metastases

Hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both have been used with some success. Initially, hormonal therapy is recommended. (Refer to the Metastatic Breast Cancer section of the Breast Cancer Treatment summary for more information.)

Responses are generally similar to those seen in women with breast cancer. (Refer to Initial hormone therapy in the Metastatic Breast Cancer section in the PDQ summary on Breast Cancer Treatment for more information.)

Changes to This Summary (05/25/2017)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

General Information About Male Breast Cancer

Revised text to state that an increased risk of male breast cancer has been reported in families with mutations, although the risks appear to be higher with inherited than with mutations. Added text to state that genes other than may also be involved in predisposition to male breast cancer, including mutations in the tumor suppressor gene, , mutations, and mismatch repair mutations associated with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome) (cited Ding et al. as reference 9, Silvestri et al. as reference 10, and Boyd et al. as reference 11).

Treatment Options for Male Breast Cancer

Added text to state that the approach to treatment of breast cancer in men is similar to that in women, but because male breast cancer is rare, there is a lack of randomized data to support specific treatment modalities. Also added that as in women, men with early stage breast cancer are treated with locoregional therapy with surgery plus or minus radiation and systemic therapy with endocrine therapy, chemotherapy, and -directed therapies.

Added text to state that in regard to endocrine therapy, tamoxifen is generally used instead of an aromatase inhibitor (AI) as the data supporting the use of an AI in men with breast cancer are limited. Also added a retrospective analysis of 257 men with stage I to III breast cancer, which included 50 men treated with an AI and 207 men treated with tamoxifen. At a median follow-up of 42 months, treatment with an AI was associated with a higher risk of death compared with tamoxifen (cited Eggemann et al. as reference 10). These findings suggest that tamoxifen should be used rather than an AI as adjuvant endocrine therapy for men with breast cancer.

Added text to state that the use of AI therapy with a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LH-RH) agonist has been reported in several cases in the literature (cited Giordano et al. as reference 11). Also added that the German Breast Group is conducting a randomized phase II clinical trial of tamoxifen with or without gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogue versus AI plus GnRH analogue in men with early-stage hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, and results are pending.

Revised list of hormonal modalities to include tamoxifen and AI with LH-RH agonist (cited Zagouri et al. as reference 14).

This summary is written and maintained by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of NCI. The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or NIH. More information about summary policies and the role of the PDQ Editorial Boards in maintaining the PDQ summaries can be found on the About This PDQ Summary and PDQ® - NCI's Comprehensive Cancer Database pages.

About This PDQ Summary

Purpose of This Summary

This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of male breast cancer. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.

Reviewers and Updates

This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Board members review recently published articles each month to determine whether an article should:

  • be discussed at a meeting,
  • be cited with text, or
  • replace or update an existing article that is already cited.

Changes to the summaries are made through a consensus process in which Board members evaluate the strength of the evidence in the published articles and determine how the article should be included in the summary.

The lead reviewers for Male Breast Cancer Treatment are:

  • Roisin Connolly, MB, BCh (Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins)
  • Beverly Moy, MD, MPH (Massachusetts General Hospital)
  • Joseph L. Pater, MD (NCIC-Clinical Trials Group)

Any comments or questions about the summary content should be submitted to Cancer.gov through the NCI website's Email Us. Do not contact the individual Board Members with questions or comments about the summaries. Board members will not respond to individual inquiries.

Levels of Evidence

Some of the reference citations in this summary are accompanied by a level-of-evidence designation. These designations are intended to help readers assess the strength of the evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. The PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board uses a formal evidence ranking system in developing its level-of-evidence designations.

Permission to Use This Summary

PDQ is a registered trademark. Although the content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text, it cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless it is presented in its entirety and is regularly updated. However, an author would be permitted to write a sentence such as “NCI’s PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks succinctly: [include excerpt from the summary].”

The preferred citation for this PDQ summary is:

PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Male Breast Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated . Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/hp/male-breast-treatment-pdq. Accessed . [PMID: 26389234]

Images in this summary are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use within the PDQ summaries only. Permission to use images outside the context of PDQ information must be obtained from the owner(s) and cannot be granted by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the illustrations in this summary, along with many other cancer-related images, is available in Visuals Online, a collection of over 2,000 scientific images.

Disclaimer

Based on the strength of the available evidence, treatment options may be described as either “standard” or “under clinical evaluation.” These classifications should not be used as a basis for insurance reimbursement determinations. More information on insurance coverage is available on Cancer.gov on the Managing Cancer Care page.

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