NYU Langone doctors determine what type of breast cancer a man has based on the appearance of tumor cells under a microscope. They also study the molecular characteristics of tumors, including how sensitive they are to the hormones estrogen and progesterone and whether they produce abnormal proteins that help cells to divide uncontrollably. Doctors also evaluate how quickly the cancer is growing.
Male breast cancer is usually one of the following types.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common form of male breast cancer. It starts in cells of the milk ducts, the tube-like structures beneath the nipple. These ducts are present in both men and women, though they are more developed in women.
Invasive ductal carcinoma breaks through the walls of the ducts and spreads to surrounding tissue in the breast.
This type of cancer can also spread to nearby lymph nodes, which are small glands that make and store lymphocytes—white blood cells that help fight infection. Invasive ductal carcinoma can also spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system, a network of organs and vessels that drains excess fluid from the body’s tissues and traps foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria. Invasive breast cancers can also spread to distant organs through the blood.
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ
Ductal carcinoma in situ, a very early form of breast cancer, is rare in men. It arises from the cells that line the milk ducts. This form of cancer is not invasive, meaning it is not found beyond the duct walls or in adjacent breast tissue. It is not considered life threatening. However, if left untreated, ductal carcinoma in situ can turn into an invasive cancer.
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma
Invasive lobular carcinoma starts in the lobular tissue, or the milk-producing glands, and spreads to nearby breast tissue. This type of breast cancer is rare in men because they don’t have much lobular tissue in their breasts.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer accounts for a small percentage of breast cancers in men. It is a fast-growing cancer, in which cancer cells block lymph vessels in the breast skin, causing swelling and skin redness. It can be mistaken for a breast infection.
Paget’s disease refers to breast cancers that develop under the nipple and areola, the ring of pigmented skin surrounding the nipple. The condition can cause the skin of the nipple and sometimes, the areola, to itch, swell, become red, crust, or thicken. It is also rare in men.
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