Although it’s rare, about 2000 US men are diagnosed each year with breast cancer. Male breast cancer is also on the rise, especially for men previously treated for lymphoma. Breast cancer is very difficult to diagnose in men, especially in the earlier stages. But, there are awareness efforts underway.
Male breast cancer awareness
Les Thompson and John Thackery share more than being breast cancer survivors. They both love railroads and work for the Puffing Billy steam train tours in Melbourne, Australia. When Les, 71, noticed a lump on his breast and found out it was cancerous, he noted in the rail’s monthly newsletter why he would be gone from work for a while. “I wanted older men like myself to realize that they can get breast cancer,” he said. (Herald Sun)
According to the Sun, that notice four years ago immensely helped colleague John Thackeray, 70. When John felt a lump on his breast last year, he recalled Les’s experience with breast cancer and went to his doctor to have it checked out.
“Mine was an aggressive fast-moving cancer. When I first discovered the lump, it was 2cm and within the space of a couple of weeks it had grown to 3cm,” John said. “Had I not known that men could get breast cancer, I may not have acted as swiftly, and the outcome may have been different,” John concluded.
According to that Sun article, for the first time, the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) has held a Male Breast Cancer Awareness Day to help raise awareness about the cancer risk men face.
Male breast cancer awareness on Long Island
Also involved with getting the word out about male breast cancer is the Mauer Foundation on Long Island, New York. The foundation is working toward establishing a national annual recognition of male breast cancer during that week. So far, four states have ‘officially declared’ one week in October as male breast cancer awareness week. The foundation’s mission is to “save lives through breast health education,” and “holds workshops in schools, businesses, and community groups.”
Thanks to CNN and the Mauer Foundation, awareness of male breast cancer is reaching others.
There were 20 Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in the 1960s through the 1980s. All were diagnosed with breast cancer. Three wells found to be contaminated with known carcinogens were reportedly shut down by the Marines in the 1980s. “That’s literally unheard of to have 20 men come from the same place, walking on the same dirt, drinking the same water,” said Jim Fontella, who was based at the camp in 1966 and 1967. “I mean, there has to be a link there somehow. And they’re saying that it couldn’t happen.”
Why early detection is crucial
Cancer Net estimates that 460 men will die from breast cancer this year. That’s 460 too many. We need to do more to get the word out about breast cancer in men and the extreme importance of having any breast abnormality medically examined ASAP.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), “early detection improves the chances that male breast cancer can be treated successfully.”
Early detection issues with male breast cancer
Lack of knowledge and hesitancy to report symptoms are the major causes preventing early detection of male breast cancer. (ACS)
Since the occurrence of breast cancer in males is far less common than in women, men are not screened for cancer (vs. females who follow a mammogram schedule), nor are there prominent U.S. public awareness campaigns about this disease in males.
So, if a man feels a “lump” in his breast, his first response is generally to just assume it’s from something minor, so he doesn’t tend to report it to his doctor.
Also, some men hold back from mentioning the lump to anyone as they’re embarrassed and even fearful someone will “question their masculinity” as breast cancer is a “female” disease (ACS).
Guys who have survived breast cancer
Well, according to Men’s Health (MH), there are a number of guys in the public eye who’ve been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, have survived the disease, and want to talk about it.
MH tells us that a few of these are the actor, Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”), ex-Senator Edward Brooke, Cleveland fullback Ernie Green, and musician Peter Criss.
Roundtree’s response on the day he was diagnosed: “I thought he was questioning my manhood,” he wrote in an essay for Essence in 2009, sharing the day his doctor first told him he had breast cancer. “Women die from this, not men. How could I possibly have that?”
But, as Criss, the drummer for KISS, told Fox News, “You don’t need boobs to get breast cancer.”
Additional detection issues
Since men have less breast tissue than women, it is often easier to feel a lump.
However, males’ lessened amount of breast tissue works against them. As men have minimal breast tissue, the growing tumor readily spreads to the nipple, skin of the breast, underlying muscle tissue, or to the lymph nodes.
Since many men historically put off seeing the doctor about any abnormalities, by the time male breast cancer is diagnosed, it has often already metastasized.
Certain men are prone to developing breast cancer
Men, like women, can also be affected by mutation of the BRCA 1 and/or BRAC2 genes.
For men, the other cancers linked to BRCA mutations include prostate, testicular, and pancreatic cancer.
There are genetic blood studies to look for the presence of this abnormality, and, if positive, they can put you in the driver’s seat regarding your breast health.
Those with a high incidence of cancer in the family should discuss genetic testing with their doctor. (You’ll also want to pre-validate if your insurance covers this testing as it can be quite expensive.)
Another topic for discussion with your Doc is any medical recommendations for self-breast exams and what they entail. (ACS)
Not all male breast cancer is tied to BRCA mutations. Other risks include “breast cancer in a close female relative, history of radiation exposure of the chest, cirrhosis, a testicular injury, or an undescended testicle.”
Also, another risk factor is mumps orchitis, the most common complication of mumps in a male past the age of puberty. (the National Institute of Health)
Early diagnosis leads to a better treatment outcome.
We need to step it up and make the public more aware about male breast cancer.
What can you do to help get the message out?