Investigating breast changes

The tests used to investigate breast changes in men are the same as those used for women. It is recommended that doctors use the approach called the 'triple test' to find the cause of a breast change. However not all men will need all of these tests.

The triple test includes:

  • clinical breast examination and taking a history
  • imaging tests i.e. mammography and/or ultrasound
  • non-surgical biopsy i.e. a fine needle aspiration and/or core biopsy.

A clinical breast examination, involves checking both breasts and feeling the lymph nodes under the armpits.

Imaging tests involve an X-ray of the breast, called a mammogram, or a scan that uses sound waves to produce an image of the breast, called an ultrasound.

If you have a lump or lumpiness, or if the imaging test shows an abnormal area, you may have a biopsy. This involves taking a sample of cells or tissue from the breast and examining them under a microscope. This can be done using one of three techniques: fine needle aspiration, a core biopsy or less commonly a surgical biopsy.

What does a diagnosis of breast cancer mean for men?

Breast cancer in men can be treated successfully. The majority of men diagnosed and treated for early breast cancer will not die from the disease. The prognosis for men with breast cancer is similar to that for women at the same age and stage of the cancer. The stage of the cancer describes the size of the tumour and extent of spread.

Your Feelings at Diagnosis

When your doctor first says the word ‘cancer’, it is usually a great shock for you and your family. You might feel overwhelmed, angry, scared, anxious, upset or confused as you may have thought that breast cancer is a disease that only affects women. You may feel that you have lost control of your life and unsure about what is going to happen next. The feeling of loss of control can be threatening and frightening. These are all very normal responses to being diagnosed with cancer.

During the first week or two after your diagnosis, you will probably be asked to make decisions about treatment. At this time you might still be feeling shocked and confused, so you might find it helpful to talk about your treatment options with your doctors, family, and friends. Seek as much information as you feel you need. For more information about living with breast cancer click here.

You may need to visit your doctor several times to ask questions. Taking a friend or family member with you might help you to remember more clearly what the doctor has said. Keeping a record of questions and answers and of your test results and treatment reports is very helpful. Finding out about the cancer and its treatment can help you feel in control and more confident about the future.

“When I first got told I had cancer, I was glad I had my wife there, because I got a mental block and couldn’t remember anything the doctor said.”

“When I found out I had breast cancer I felt confused…I didn’t know that men got it…I couldn’t believe it.”

“The one thing I wanted to know when I got diagnosed was ‘what do I wear after the operation”’ I know it sounds funny, but I had no idea and it was something that I needed to know.”

You might also find it helpful to talk with your doctors about how you are feeling. Sharing your feelings with others, even painful feelings, can help you cope with your diagnosis of breast cancer. You can also ask your doctor to refer you to a breast care nurse or counselling specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. These health professionals have training and specialised skills in listening and helping people adjust to both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.