Being diagnosed with breast cancer in men

If your GP thinks you may have breast cancer, you will be referred to a hospital or breast clinic to be seen by a specialist breast doctor. They will examine you and then organise for you to have some tests.

You will have an ultrasound of your chest area and armpit, to check the lymph nodes. An ultrasound uses sound waves to build up a picture. You will also have a mammogram of your breast tissue. Mammograms are low-dose x-rays.

The doctor will arrange for you to have a biopsy. This is when a sample of cells is taken from the lump or abnormal area. There are different ways of taking a biopsy. A pathologist will examine the cells under a microscope to look for cancer.

You may need to come back to the clinic for the results of your tests. Waiting for test results can be difficult. You may want to talk to someone close to you or one of our cancer support specialists.

Diagnosing breast cancer in men

You will usually start by seeing your GP, who will examine you and refer you to a breast clinic to see a specialist. You should receive an appointment for the breast clinic within two weeks.


At the breast clinic

At the clinic you’ll see a specialist breast doctor. You may also see a specialist breast nurse or advanced nurse practitioner. They usually ask if you have had any other breast problems or if anyone in your family has had breast cancer. The doctor will examine your chest area and the lymph nodes in your armpits and around your neck. After this they’ll explain which tests you need.


Breast ultrasound

An ultrasound uses sound waves to build up a picture of the breast tissue. It can show if a lump is solid (made of cells) or a fluid-filled cyst. It can also show whether a solid lump is regular or irregular in shape.

To have an ultrasound, you’ll be asked to take off your top and lie down on a couch with your arm above your head. The person doing the scan puts gel on your breast tissue and moves a small hand-held device over the area. A picture of the breast tissue shows up on a screen. An ultrasound only takes a few minutes and is painless.


Ultrasound of the lymph nodes

You will also have an ultrasound of the lymph nodes in the armpit. If any of the nodes feel swollen or look abnormal on the ultrasound, the doctor will take a biopsy  of the node or nodes.


Mammogram

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breast tissue. You’ll need to take off your top for the mammogram.

The radiographer will position you so that your chest is against the x-ray machine. Your breast tissue is then gently but firmly compressed with a flat, clear, plastic plate.

The breast tissue needs to be squashed to keep it still and to get a clear picture. You may find this uncomfortable or painful for a short period of time. You’ll need to stay still for a few seconds while the picture is taken.


Breast biopsy

This is when the doctor removes a small piece of tissue or cells from the lump or abnormal area. A pathologist (doctor who specialises in analysing cells) examines the tissue or cells under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

There are different ways of taking a biopsy. Your doctor or nurse will explain the type you will have. For a few days after the biopsy, your chest may feel sore and bruised. Taking painkillers will help with this and any bruising will go away in a couple of weeks.

Needle (core) biopsy

This is the most common type of biopsy. It’s a quick test where the doctor uses a needle to take small pieces of tissue from the lump or abnormal area. Before taking the biopsy, they inject some local anaesthetic into the area to numb it. You may feel a little pain or a sensation of pressure for a short time during the biopsy. Several samples can be taken at the same time.

Fine needle aspiration (FNA)

This is a quick, simple test that may be used instead of a core biopsy to take samples from lymph nodes. The doctor puts a very fine needle into the area and withdraws a sample of cells into a syringe. The procedure is carried out in the x-ray or ultrasound department of the hospital.

Excision biopsy

Occasionally, the doctor makes a cut in the skin and removes the lump or abnormal area. This is usually done under a general anaesthetic. Usually, you have stitches that dissolve and don’t need to be removed.


Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family or a close friend. Your specialist nurse or one of the organisations listed on our database, can also provide support. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

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