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A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease, such as breast cancer.
But having a risk factor, or even many, does not mean that you are sure to get the disease. Some men with one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while most men with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors.
We don't yet completely understand the causes of breast cancer in men, but researchers have found several factors that may increase the risk of getting it. As with female breast cancer, many of these factors are related to your body's sex hormone levels.
Aging is an important risk factor for the development of breast cancer in men. The risk of breast cancer goes up as a man ages. On average, men with breast cancer are about 72 years old when they are diagnosed.
Breast cancer risk is increased if other members of the family (blood relatives) have had breast cancer. About 1 out of 5 men with breast cancer have a close relative, male or female, with the disease.
Men with a mutation (defect) in the BRCA2 gene have an increased risk of breast cancer, with a lifetime risk of about 6 in 100. BRCA1 mutations can also cause breast cancer in men, but the risk is lower, about 1 in 100.
Although mutations in these genes most often are found in members of families with many cases of breast and/or ovarian cancer, they have also been found in men with breast cancer who did not have a strong family history.
Mutations in CHEK2, PTEN and PALB2 genes might also be responsible for some breast cancers in men.
Klinefelter syndrome is a congenital (present at birth) condition that affects about 1 in 1,000 men. Normally the cells in men's bodies have a single X chromosome along with a Y chromosome, while women's cells have two X chromosomes. Men with Klinefelter syndrome have cells with a Y chromosome plus at least two X chromosomes (but sometimes more).
Men with Klinefelter syndrome also have small testicles and are often infertile because they are unable to produce functioning sperm cells. Compared with other men, they have lower levels of androgens (male hormones) and more estrogens (female hormones). For this reason, they often develop gynecomastia (benign male breast growth).
Men with Klinefelter syndrome are more likely to get breast cancer than other men. Having this condition can increase the risk anywhere between 20 - 60 times the risk of a man in the general population.
A man whose chest area has been treated with radiation (such as for the treatment of a cancer in the chest, like lymphoma) has an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Heavy drinking (of alcoholic beverages) increases the risk of breast cancer in men. This may be because of its effects on the liver (see next paragraph).
The liver plays an important role in balancing the levels of sex hormones. In cases of severe liver disease, such as cirrhosis, the liver is not working well and the hormone levels are uneven, causing lower levels of androgens and higher levels of estrogen. Men with liver disease can also have a higher chance of developing benign male breast growth (gynecomastia) and also have an higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Estrogen-related drugs were once used in hormonal therapy for men with prostate cancer. This treatment may slightly increase breast cancer risk.
There is concern that transgender/transsexual individuals who take high doses of estrogen as part of gender-affirming hormonal treatment could also have a higher breast cancer risk. Still, research on breast cancer risk in transgender individuals is quite new, so it isn’t clear what their breast cancer risk may be.
Studies have shown that women's breast cancer risk is increased by obesity (being extremely overweight) after menopause. Obesity is also a risk factor for male breast cancer as well. The reason is that fat cells in the body convert male hormones (androgens) into female hormones (estrogens). This means that obese men have higher levels of estrogens in their body.
Certain conditions, such as having an undescended testicle, having mumps as an adult, or having one or both testicles surgically removed (orchiectomy) may increase male breast cancer risk.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
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Last Revised: April 27, 2018
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