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Male Breast Cancer Imaging

  • Author: Lars J Grimm, MD, MHS; Chief Editor: Eugene C Lin, MD  more...
Updated: Oct 19, 2015


Male breast cancer is similar to breast cancer in females in its etiology, family history, prognosis, and treatment. In approximately 30% of cases of breast cancer in men, the family history is positive for the disease. A familial form of breast cancer is seen in which both genders are at increased risk for breast cancer. Male breast neoplasms are relatively rare, in contrast to gynecomastia, which is a relatively common condition.[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18]

Risk factors for male breast cancer include BRCA mutation, estrogen exposure/androgen insufficiency (Klinefelter syndrome, obesity, cirrhosis, exogenous estrogen therapy, testicular abnormality), and radiation exposure.[19, 20]

For excellent patient education resources, visit eMedicineHealth's Cancer Center. Also, see eMedicineHealth's patient education articles Breast Cancer, Breast Lumps and Pain, and Breast Self-Exam.


Male breast cancer is most commonly invasive ductal or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).[19] Male breasts lack terminal ductal lobular units, thus lobular carcinoma is extremely rare except in cases of estrogen exposure.

The majority of male breast cancers are estrogen and progesterone receptor positive, like in female breast cancer. However, male breast cancer is 3 times less likely to be HER2 positive.[21]


There are 1,900 men diagnosed with breast cancer yearly, compared with 190,000 women, but the case fatality rate is similar.[19]

The incidence of male breast cancer peaks at age 71 years.[22]

Other problems to be considered

Problems to be considered include the following:

  • Gynecomastia
  • Fat necrosis
  • Breast metastases
  • Lymphoma


An ultrasound-guided core-needle biopsy can be safely performed if there is sufficient clinical and radiologic evidence to suggest breast cancer.

Preferred Examination

The clinical examination is key in the evaluation of a palpable mass in a male. If the clinical features strongly suggest gynecomastia, further evaluation may not be necessary. If the clinical features are equivocal or worrisome for malignancy, then additional evaluation with mammography and/or ultrasound may be appropriate.[18, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31]

For patients at high risk of breast cancer (family history, genetic predisposition, personal history of breast cancer), recommendations include monthly breast self-examinations, semiannual clinical breast examinations, and baseline followed by yearly mammography if gynecomastia or breast density are seen.[19]



On mammography, male breast cancer is typically retroareolar as it arises from the central ducts. An eccentric position is not typical for gynecomastia. Masses are most commonly high density with an irregular shape.[23] Margins are usually spiculated, lobulated, or microlobulated.

Calcifications are observed less commonly than in female breast cancer and, when found, are coarser in appearance. Calcifications can also be seen in fat necrosis.

Axillary adenopathy may be observed as well.[1, 24, 25] Nipple retraction, skin thickening, and increased trabeculation are worrisome findings.

Mammography is highly sensitive and specific for breast cancer in men, but it should be used to complement the clinical examination. Cases of carcinoma have been found by ultrasonography after they were obscured on previous mammograms by gynecomastia.[26]

Bilateral mammography should always be obtained to help in the evaluation of the baseline breast architecture and to identify contralateral disease.

See the image below.

A partially circumscribed retroareolar mass in a m A partially circumscribed retroareolar mass in a male with suspicious microcalcifications; this is known breast cancer.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

MRI is generally not indicated in the workup for male breast cancer unless there is concern for chest wall invasion. Features worrisome for female breast cancer are the same for male breast cancer: spiculated margins, washout enhancement kinetics, and abnormal lymphadenopathy.



Ultrasound features of male breast cancer are similar to those of female breast cancer. Masses that are taller than wide (antiparallel) and hypoechoic are worrisome. The margins are angulated, microlobulated, or spiculated.[27, 23]

Similar sonographic findings may be observed in gynecomastia or inflammation; therefore, ultrasonography alone is not a reliable method to distinguish male breast cancer from other etiologies. Abscesses, gynecomastia, and fat necrosis may all give false positives.

Evaluation of axillary lymph nodes is important if there is high clinical suspicion for breast cancer. Abnormal lymph nodes with an absent fatty hilum and asymmetric cortical thickness are suspicious for regional metastatic disease.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Lars J Grimm, MD, MHS Clinical Associate, Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Duke University Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Bernard D Coombs, MB, ChB, PhD Consulting Staff, Department of Specialist Rehabilitation Services, Hutt Valley District Health Board, New Zealand

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Edward Azavedo, MD, PhD Director of Clinical Breast Imaging Services, Associate Professor, Department of Radiology, Karolinska University Hospital, Sweden

Edward Azavedo, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: Radiological Society of North America, Swedish Medical Association, Swedish Society of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Eugene C Lin, MD Attending Radiologist, Teaching Coordinator for Cardiac Imaging, Radiology Residency Program, Virginia Mason Medical Center; Clinical Assistant Professor of Radiology, University of Washington School of Medicine

Eugene C Lin, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Nuclear Medicine, American College of Radiology, Radiological Society of North America, Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

John M Lewin, MD Section Chief, Breast Imaging, Diversified Radiology of Colorado, PC; Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Preventative Medicine and Biometrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine

John M Lewin, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Radiology, American Roentgen Ray Society, Radiological Society of North America, Society of Breast Imaging

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Hologic, Inc. for consulting; Received grant/research funds from Hologic, Inc. for research.


Stephanie K Patterson, MD Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Breast Imaging, University of Michigan Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose. Marilyn A Roubidoux, MD Professor of Radiology, Division of Breast Imaging, University of Michigan Health System

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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A partially circumscribed retroareolar mass in a male with suspicious microcalcifications; this is known breast cancer.
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