Men's breasts

Breast cancer in men is rare. About 350 men in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Many people don’t know that men can get breast cancer because they aren’t aware that men have breasts. But men have a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples, where breast cancer can develop.

Cross section of the male breast
Cross section of the male breast

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Until puberty, breast tissue in boys and girls is the same. Both have a small amount of breast tissue behind the nipple and areola (the darker area of skin around the nipple). This is made up of a few tiny tubes (ducts) surrounded by fatty tissue, connective tissue, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels.

At puberty, both girls and boys begin to produce the hormone oestrogen. In girls, this leads to breast tissue developing. In some boys oestrogen also causes breast swelling but this is usually temporary and their breast tissue doesn’t develop. At puberty, boys begin to make more of the hormone testosterone which acts against the effects of oestrogen.

Sometimes as men get older, or as a side effect of certain drugs, the balance between these hormones changes. This can cause breast tissue to swell, which is called gynaecomastia. It is not linked with breast cancer, but if you are worried about any changes you can talk to your GP.

The lymphatic system

In both men and women, breast tissue is connected to the lymphatic system through a network of lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes. The lymphatic system helps to protect us from infection and disease. Lymph nodes are found in the armpit, beside the breastbone and behind the collarbones.

Sometimes, cancer can spread through the lymphatic system. If the cancer cells spread outside the breast tissue, they are most likely to go to lymph nodes in the armpit.

Lymph nodes near the breast
Lymph nodes near the breast

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Back to Understanding breast cancer in men

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