Breast cancer in men

All people have breast tissue. You may be surprised to hear that both men and women have breast tissue, although men have less breast tissue than women. Most of the breast tissue in men is located behind the nipple.

Breast cancer in men is the same disease as that which affects women. 

Breast cancer happens when abnormal cells in the breast grow in an uncontrolled way.

Breast cancer in men can develop at any age, although it is much more common in older men than in younger men.

  • It is paramount that you’re able to conduct Men’s Business and uphold protocol during your cancer journey. You can request cultural protocol be followed where gender-specific cancer is present or symptoms resulting from a cancer diagnosis are impacting your reproductive organs.

    This means that you can:

    • Request the assistance of male health practitioners throughout your cancer journey.
    • Have another male (father, uncle, brother, partner, friend etc.) attend medical appointments and procedures with you as a support person.
    • Call on the men in your family and community to conduct Men’s Business to help you through your cancer journey.
    • Ask for a male advocate to assist you navigate your medical treatment.
    • Request that health practitioners and providers are competent in upholding Men’s Business protocols.

    Remember, our families and mob are our best teachers. Lean on your Elders and family to help you uphold Men’s Business protocol during your cancer journey.

    Find out more on Men’s Business

  • There are a number of symptoms you should look out for, including:

    • a painless lump in the breast close to the nipple (the most common symptom of breast cancer in men)
    • a change in the size or shape of your breast
    • a change in the nipple
    • discharge from the nipples
    • any unusual pain
    • a change in the skin of your breast.

    Having these symptoms may not mean you have cancer, but it is important to check.

    If you find a change in your breast that is new or usual for you, yarn with your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker. 

  • You won’t know if you have breast cancer until your doctor has talked to you, completed a physical examination and carried out some tests. You can request a male doctor, nurse or health worker to assist with following Men’s Business protocols. The tests might include:

    • a breast screen (or mammogram), which is a special type of X-ray for the breast
    • an ultrasound, which uses soundwaves to build a picture of the inside of the breast
    • a biopsy, when a tiny bit is taken from inside your breast with a needle, and this is looked at using a microscope.

    Most people who have these tests find out they don’t have breast cancer, but it’s important to check.

  • If you have breast cancer, you might be told it’s at a certain stage. This describes whether or not it has spread to other parts of your body, and how far. Knowing the stage of your cancer helps you and your doctors to decide on the best treatment for you. 

    • Stage 0: “pre-invasive” breast cancer such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
    • Stage 1: the cancer is only in the breast and the tumour is a small size 
    • Stage 2: the cancer is still only in the breast and/or has spread to the lymph nodes close to the tumour. 
    • Stage 3: the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and may have spread to nearby muscles and skin.
    • Stage 4: the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as nearby lymph nodes, surrounding organs such as the liver and the bones. This is also known as metastatic cancer. 

    With all stages of breast cancer, there is plenty of treatment and support that can help you, including traditional medicine and practices like ceremony and being on Country. 

  • Treatment for men with breast cancer is similar to treatment for women, and will usually include surgery and may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

    The main treatments are:

    • surgery
    • radiotherapy
    • chemotherapy
    • hormone therapies
    • targeted therapy.

    If you have breast cancer, you might need one of these, or a combination of them. Your doctors will yarn with you about what treatments they recommend and what options are best for you.

    Yarn with your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker about which treatment you might have and including any traditional healing, bush medicines and cultural practices into your treatment plan.


    Surgery is a procedure done in hospital to remove the cancer and help to stop it from spreading to other parts of your body.  Surgery involves staying in hospital and having an anaesthetic and an operation to remove the cancer.

    Most men diagnosed with breast cancer will have a mastectomy, which means that the whole breast tissue is removed. Some men also need some of the lymph nodes under their arms taken out.

    Yarn with your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker to learn more about your surgery.

    Read more about surgery.


    Radiotherapy (or radiation therapy) uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells in one part of your body.

    Most people who have radiotherapy have it 5 days a week for 4-6 weeks, and each session can take 15 minutes. But it might be different for you.

    You can only have radiotherapy in cities and some big towns – see this list. If your doctor thinks radiotherapy would help, and you don’t live near a radiotherapy site, assistance with travel and accommodation is available for you and your family if you need to travel away from home for treatment.

    Yarn with your doctor, nurse or  Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker.

    Read more about radiotherapy.

    Endocrine therapy (Hormone therapy)

    Some types of cancer, including breast cancer, need certain hormones to grow. By reducing the levels of these hormones in the body, the cancer can slow its growth or even shrink. In the case of breast cancer, the hormones used by the cells are called oestrogen and progesterone.

    The majority of male breast cancers are hormone receptor positive, making them more likely to respond to hormone therapy.

    Your treating team will discuss these different options with you and recommend the best treatment based on your circumstances.


    Many people have chemotherapy or “chemo” in cycles – such as once every 2-3 weeks or once a week. Some people have chemotherapy tablets at home, but most need to go to a hospital or clinic. But you usually don’t need to stay in hospital for chemo.

    Most chemo comes as injections into your arm or hand that drip in over a few hours and some need you to take home a small bottle home for two days then come back to take it off again. Some chemo comes as tablets. If you’re having chemo, your doctor will tell you exactly how it will work for you.

    Chemo can make people feel sick for a while, but there are things they can take and do to help. Yarn with your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker. Mob who have had chemo before say that being on Country, traditional healing and bush medicines, Women’s Business and Men’s Business as well as cultural practices can help with relieving symptoms from treatment.

    Read more about chemotherapy and side effects.

    Hormone therapy

    Some men have a type of breast cancer that thrives on the hormones in your body. If you have this type of cancer, then your doctor might suggest drugs to affect your body’s hormones. It can slow, and maybe stop, the growth of the cancer. Most male breast cancers are hormone receptor positive, which means they are more likely to respond to hormone therapy.

    Hormone therapy usually means that you take tablets every day for months or years. Yarn with your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker.

    Read more about hormone therapy.

    Targeted therapies

    Targeted therapies are newer drugs that try to stop the cancer growing.

    Targeted therapy is usually used in combination with other treatments, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery. If your doctor thinks they might help, click here for some questions to ask.

    Read more about targeted therapy.

  • What is treatment meant to do?

    It is important for you to understand why you are getting the treatment your doctor recommends and how it is supposed to help you.  Different treatments try to do different things. It depends on what cancer you have, and whether it has spread, and what you want. Ask your doctor or specialist if the treatment they suggest:

    • is meant to cure you, by getting rid of the cancer and stopping it spreading, or
    • won’t cure you, but is meant to prolong your life, or make you feel better.

    Your doctors will yarn with you and explain this. You can yarn with them and tell them what you think, and what you want. Some people will want to try everything possible to stay alive. Others want simpler treatments, or don’t want to leave Country for treatment, or don’t want any treatment. It’s your choice. You can also talk to another doctor to help you decide.

  • Deciding on treatment

    It can take time to decide about treatment. There are usually some options to hear about and choices to make.

    It can be helpful to write things down and have someone else come to appointments to help remember information.

    Yarn with your doctor, specialist, nurse or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker. Our mob who have had cancer also recommend yarning with trusted family, friends and Elders to help make decisions.

    Read more about treatment.

  • Always ask about the cost of treatment. Many treatments are free through public hospitals, but some are not. Yarn with your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker.

    Learn more about financial support.

  • It all depends on the type of treatment you’re having. Some men only have surgery alone, whereas some others can have treatments such as hormone therapy for more than a year. It is different for everyone. Each treatment plan is created uniquely for that person.

    After treatment is finished, your doctors will keep in touch with you to check how you’re going. Your cancer journey gives you an opportunity to build trust and safe relationships with your doctors and medical team that may last for many years.

  • It is not possible to say exactly what causes breast cancer in men. However, research has shown that there are some things that increase a man’s chance of developing breast cancer. These are called ‘risk factors’.

    But it is usually hard to be sure whether a risk factor contributed to the development of the cancer. And having one or more risk factors for breast cancer does not mean that someone will develop this cancer. In fact, many people with breast cancer have no obvious risk factors.

    The most common risk factors are:

    • getting older - breast cancer in men is more common in those aged 50 years and older
    • having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer in your family.

    However, most men who develop breast cancer do not have a strong family history. 

    Other less common factors that may increase risk include:

    If you have any of these risk factors or you’re worried about your risk for breast cancer, yarn with your doctor, nurse, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health worker.

  • Clinical trials might be an option for you. Talk to your doctor to help you decide if taking part is a good option. Read more about clinical trials.

  • As a man, being diagnosed with breast cancer can cause big changes in your life, and can change how you think and feel about things. But it's different for everyone. 

    It’s not always easy, but over time, most men find it easier and are able to go back to doing the things that are important to them.

    Finding good help and support in practical ways is important for our mob get through the experience of cancer with strength, dignity, and hope. 

    If you are feeling overwhelmed or worried, you might want to yarn with people you trust about:

    • your feelings
    • what you are thinking
    • what you want to do
    • what you need to feel better.

    Remember, our families and mob are our best teachers. Lean on your Elders and family to help you uphold Men’s Business protocol during your cancer journey.

    How do I tell my family and friends?

    Breast cancer is often seen as a ‘woman’s cancer’, so lots of men find it hard to talk about their diagnosis. Your partner, your family and friends may feel shocked or scared, or may not know what to say.  Yarning with others about how you and they feel is important to help you and them cope with your breast cancer.

    Where can I find help and support?

    You don’t need to go through it alone. It’s important to know that many others have been there before you, and that there is help available.

    Breast Cancer Network Australia’s website contains personal stories from men about how breast cancer has affected their lives. Visit for more information.

    Cancer Council Helpline can provide up-to-date, local information about services available in your area. Call 13 11 20 from anywhere in Australia.

    Read more about where to get help and support. 

Read more detail on breast cancer in men.

Life with and after cancer


Where can I get help and support?