Male breast cancer patients face higher mortality rates

Written by Ilana Landau, Editor

A new retrospective study has observed that mortality rates at all disease stages are higher for men with breast cancer compared with women, even when cancer types, treatment regimens and therapy access are accounted for.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (TN, USA) have reviewed National Cancer Database information and observed that men with breast cancer face significantly greater mortality rates, at all stages of their disease, compared with female breast cancer patients. This disparity remained significant even when clinical characteristics — such as cancer type and treatment access— were considered.

Male breast cancer is rare; it accounts for less than 1% of all male cancer cases. In the study, researchers analyzed National Cancer Database registry data on 16,025 male, and 1,800,708 female, breast cancer patients diagnosed between 2004 and 2014.

Frequently asked questions:

The primary outcome of the study was patients’ overall survival, with 3-year and 5-year mortality rates being important secondary study outcomes.

Researchers observed that, compared with female breast cancer patients, men with breast cancer had statistically significantly reduced overall survival rates.

The 3-year and 5-year mortality rates for male breast cancer patients were also greater compared with women with breast cancer.

These sex-based discrepancies in survival and mortality rates were partially mitigated, but remained significant, when patients’ clinical characteristics were accounted for.

Interestingly, the proportion of male breast cancers that are estrogen receptor-positive is greater compared with that of female breast cancers.

Senior study author Xiao-Ou Shu, Associate Director for Global Health, and co-leader, of the Cancer Epidemiology Research Program at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (TN, USA), stated: “[Estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer] is a cancer type where patients usually fare better because…we have a lot of treatment options for that type of breast cancer. In theory, men should have better outcomes and have lower mortality as women do if the treatment is equally effective.”

Shu concluded: “The question is whether there are some other biological differences between estrogen receptor-positive male breast and estrogen receptor-positive female breast cancer. We don’t know. The bottom line is that we need more studies specifically focused on male breast cancer.”


Wang F, Shu X, Meszoely I et al. Overall mortality after diagnosis of breast cancer in men vs women. JAMA Oncol. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2019.2803. (Epub ahead of print) (2019);

What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?

Common male breast cancer symptoms include the presence of a lump in the breast tissue, breast tissue thickening and abnormalities in the skin covering the breast or nipple.

What treatments are available for male breast cancer?

Treatment options for male breast cancer can vary according to the specific form of breast cancer detected. Main therapeutic options include surgery, combination radiation and chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted drug therapies.

Discover more on male breast cancer and general oncology by visiting our sister site Oncology Central now>>