Breast Cancer in Men

+ -Text Size

Treating Breast Cancer In Men TOPICS

How is breast cancer in men treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society's Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General information about treatment of breast cancer in men

Most of the information about treating male breast cancer comes from doctors' experience with treating female breast cancer. Because so few men have breast cancer, it is hard for doctors to study the treatment of male breast cancer patients separately in clinical trials.

Treatments can be classified into broad groups, based on how they work and when they are used.

The main types of treatment for breast cancer are:

It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What should you ask your doctor about breast cancer in men?

No matter which treatment is recommended, it helps to look into your health insurance situation before you start treatment. This can allow you to manage financial issues and avoid unpleasant surprises. For more, see our document Health Insurance and Financial Assistance for the Cancer Patient.

Local versus systemic therapy

Local therapy is intended to treat a tumor at the site without affecting the rest of the body. Surgery and radiation therapy are examples of local therapies.

Systemic therapy refers to drugs, which can be given by mouth or directly into the bloodstream to reach cancer cells anywhere in the body. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy are systemic therapies.

Adjuvant and neoadjuvant therapy

Patients who have no detectable cancer after surgery are often given treatment to help keep the cancer from coming back. This is known as adjuvant therapy. Doctors know that even in the early stages of breast cancer, cancer cells may break away from the main breast tumor and begin to spread. These cells can't be felt on a physical exam or seen on x-rays or other imaging tests, and they cause no symptoms. But they can become new tumors in nearby tissues and other organs (and bones). The goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill these hidden cells. Systemic therapy (like chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy) and radiation can both be used as adjuvant therapy.

Not every patient needs adjuvant therapy. Whether or not you are likely to benefit from adjuvant therapy depends upon the stage and characteristics of your cancer and what type of surgery you had. Generally, if the tumor is larger or the cancer has spread to lymph nodes, it is more likely to have spread through the bloodstream, and you are more likely to benefit. But other features may determine if a patient should be offered adjuvant therapy. Recommendations on adjuvant therapy are discussed in the sections on these treatments and in the section “Treatment of breast cancer in men, by stage.”

Some patients are given treatment before surgery to shrink the tumor in the hope it will allow a less extensive operation to be done. This often involves the same treatments used for adjuvant therapy, only giving them (or starting them) before surgery and not after. This is called neoadjuvant therapy. Neoadjuvant therapy also lowers the chance of the cancer coming back later, so many patients who get neoadjuvant therapy will not need adjuvant therapy, or will not need as much.

Last Medical Review: 10/10/2014
Last Revised: 02/26/2015