Treating Breast Cancer in Men

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 Understanding Health Insurance .

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 on 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.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. Sometimes they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. See Clinical Trials to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer 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.