The majority of lumps are a result of gynecomastia, which are harmless. But it is always important to have lumps checked out by your doctor, because if there is a problem it has to be dealt with in a timely fashion.
Male cancer is rare, and therefore routine screening is not recommended for most men. It is however recommended if there is a strong family history of the disease, so if multiple members of the direct family have, or have had, breast cancer.
When a doctor suspects breast cancer in a man, he or she conducts a series of tests in order to diagnose the patient. These tests include:
Clinical Breast exams - The doctor will exam the patient's breast for lumps and changes; he/she will also examine the rest of the patients body for signs that the cancer has spread, such as enlarged liver or lymph nodes.
Mammogram - Mammograms for men are administered the same way as with women, the test results are actually more accurate than with women, because a man's breast is less dense. The mammogram is administered by compressing the breasts between two plastic plates while x-rays are taken.
Ultrasound - Male ultrasounds are the same as the ones performed on women. Ultrasound is an imaging technique used to visualize structures within the body.
Nipple Discharge Examination - If the patient has nipple discharge, the doctor may examine it for cancerous cells.
Biopsy - Biopsy is the only way for a doctor to know whether a lump is actually cancerous, they can provide information about the lump, but also help determine the required treatment (if needed). There are three types of Biopsy:
Fine-needle aspiration - The doctor uses a thin, hollow needle to withdraw cells from the lump. These cells are then analyzed by a lab.
Core needle - The doctor again uses a hollow needle, but instead of withdrawing just cells, he/she withdraws tissue. This tissue is then also analyzed by a lab for cancer.
Surgical - Surgical is the complete or partial removal of the lump.
Estrogen and progesterone receptor tests - If the initial biopsy points towards cancer, doctors will recommend a few additional tests. The estrogen and progesterone receptor test determines whether the cancer cells are affected by female hormones. Based on the results doctors can recommend the appropriate treatment method.
HER2 - If a biopsy is undergone, and malignant cells are found, doctors may test the tissue samples for the presence of human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2), which is a protein. Approximately 30% of male breast cancer cases have too much of this protein, these types of cancer are usually more aggressive, and can grow/spread quicker than most other breast cancers.
Like women, male breast cancer is staged from Stage 0 through Stage IV.
Stage 0 refers to noninvasive cancer (in situ), these types of cancer don't have the ability to spread to other parts of the body, or invade the surrounding tissue. Nonetheless, these tumors are removed, avoiding the risk of the tumor becoming invasive. Treatment at this stage offers the best chance of recovery.
Stages I through IV are invasive cancer that have the ability to spread to other parts of the body. The different stages are used to categorize the size, and to which extent the cancer has spread.
Doctors can determine at which stage the patient is at through a number of tests:
- CAT scan
- MRI scan
- PET scan