September 01, 2023

Male vs Female Breast Cancer

male vs female breast cancer

Both men and women have breast tissue and can develop breast cancer. Despite the difference in appearance between male and female breasts, their structures are similar, as are the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in men and women. 

This article compares the condition in the genders, including male vs. female breast cancer statistics, which are very different.

What Are the Differences Between Male and Female Breasts?

Male and female breasts are alike in many ways. Both have fatty tissue, breast cells, ducts, and nipples. 

However, a woman’s breasts change during puberty, developing working lobules and milk ducts that make and transport milk for breastfeeding after childbirth. These structures account for the significant difference in the incidence of breast cancer for a man vs. a woman. Most female breast cancers develop in the lobules and milk ducts.

Other factors affect breast cancer in males vs. females as well. For example, women typically produce more estrogen than men, and estrogen increases breast cancer risk. 

Men with higher estrogen levels can develop what’s called gynecomastia, which causes breast tissue to increase. That condition alone doesn’t elevate a man’s breast cancer risk, but other factors that predispose men to gynecomastia through elevated estrogen levels can increase their chances of developing breast cancer.

What Percentage of Breast Cancer Cases Are Male?

Male breast cancer cases comprise less than 1% of all breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. However, men tend to have poorer outcomes for multiple reasons, including the proportions of different tissues in their breasts, making cancer harder to detect. Consequently, they’re typically diagnosed at an older age, and their cancers often are at more advanced stages. 

Other factors also affect when men are diagnosed with breast cancer. They include that men aren’t taught to do breast self-exams, are less aware of breast cancer symptoms, and may be slow to report symptoms due to perceived stigmas about the condition. 

In addition, poorer outcomes may be influenced by the fact that most research focuses on female breast cancers. And while male and female breasts are similar, the relative lack of studies on male breast cancer may mean that the available treatments aren’t optimal for men. 

Why Is Breast Cancer Rare in Men?

When looking at statistics for breast cancer in males vs. females, men are much less likely to develop the disease. Multiple factors cause that difference. 

As noted above, men’s breasts aren’t affected by puberty like women’s. As a result, men have fewer lobules and milk ducts, and their breasts contain mainly fat and fibrous breast tissue called stroma. Those components are less likely to develop cancer. Men also typically have less estrogen — a hormone that plays a role in breast cancers. 

So, while breast cancer is rare in men, it can occur, and men should be aware of the risk and vigilant about changes in their breasts.

Learn More About Breast Health from Baptist Health

If you have questions about male vs. female breast cancer or breast health in general, your Baptist Health physician is an excellent resource. We’re proud to say that our expertise in breast imaging and breast care services has been recognized with several awards from professional organizations. 

You can also find helpful information on breast health on our website.

Learn More.