Receptors for breast cancer in men

Some breast cancer cells have receptors that hormones or proteins can attach to. This can stimulate the cancer cells to grow.

A pathologist will do tests on the cancer cells to find out if receptors are present and what type they are. This information helps you and your doctor to decide on the most effective treatment for you.

Hormone receptors

Hormones exist naturally in the body. They help to control how cells grow and what they do in the body. All men have small amounts of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone in their bodies. Hormones, particularly oestrogen, can encourage some breast cancer cells to grow.

About 20% of oestrogen is made by the testicles. The remaining 80% is made from male sex hormones (androgens).

Breast cancers with receptors for the hormone oestrogen are called oestrogen receptor-positive or ER-positive breast cancer. The term ER is used because the American spelling of oestrogen is estrogen. Some hospitals also check if cells are progesterone receptor (PR) positive.

About 90% of breast cancers in men are ER-positive. These cancers respond well to hormonal treatments.

Oestrogen receptor-negative or ER-negative breast cancer doesn’t have oestrogen receptors.

Protein receptors

Some breast cancers have receptors for the protein HER2 (human epidermal growth factor 2), which can encourage breast cancer cells to grow. These cancers are called HER2-positive breast cancers. They may be treated with a drug called trastuzumab (Herceptin®).

Cancers that have no hormone (oestrogen or progesterone) or protein receptors are called triple-negative breast cancer.

Back to Understanding your diagnosis

Stages and grading

Knowing the grade and type of the breast cancer helps your doctors plan the best treatment for you.

Treatment overview

The treatment you have will depend on the stage of the cancer. Surgery is usually the main treatment for early breast cancer in men.