One Transgender Man’s Story of Getting Breast Cancer
Although breast cancer in men is rare, it is not unheard of. According to the American Cancer Society, out of 255,000 individuals in the United States estimated to be diagnosed with breast cancer, approximately 2,500 will be men. Still, the risk of breast cancer in transgender individuals has yet to be determined. To date, no studies have been conducted to assess breast cancer risk in trans individuals; however, this does not mean they are not at risk. A few studies are currently underway, but they require years’ worth of work to uncover any valuable information. One focus of these studies will be on the association between hormonal transition and the risk of breast cancer. Most recently, the National Institutes of Health has initiated a five-year study to monitor the health of adolescent transgender individuals and the hormonal effects on cancer risk.
Image credit: Wisconsin State Journal
Casey Saxton is one such example. Casey was born and raised a woman, then underwent gender transformation to become a man, after which he was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2010, he went on to get his breasts removed, but in 2015, he felt a lump just beneath his right armpit. Initially, he thought it was scar tissue from the surgery, not even considering that he could get breast cancer. Due to his prior bad experiences with doctors, he avoided any medical visits. But gradually, the lump began throbbing, after which he underwent a cancer screening test. It was then confirmed that he had stage 3A breast cancer.
His case highlights some of the challenges transgender individuals face in the medical field. They are often reluctant to seek medical care because of the fear of being discriminated against as well as not getting appropriate insurance coverage. According to Dr. Mark, who treated Saxton, removing a large portion of his breast tissue did reduce the risk of cancer, but it did not in any way eliminate the possibility altogether.
He stated the testosterone treatment taken by Saxton lowered his risk in one way, but also raised it in another. Most transgender individuals also have their ovaries removed, which further reduces the risk of breast cancer, but Saxton kept his. By mid-2016, Saxton’s breast cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and was proving to be aggressive. After much explaining, his insurance company proceeded to cover his care. He underwent numerous surgeries to get the tumor removed as well as the surrounding cancerous lymph nodes.
Having completed about eight rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries, and four weeks of radiation, Saxton is now in recovery. He has been given tamoxifen, which is known to block estrogen so as to prevent the reoccurrence of breast cancer. He also experienced menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, which had been previously blocked by his testosterone treatment.
Saxton knew continuing with this hormone treatment would increase the risk of breast cancer while stopping it would make it harder for him to live as a man. He discussed the pros and cons with his doctor, who ultimately suggested he continue taking the testosterone. Currently, Saxton carries out routine visits to his doctor, and he is also becoming more social. He chose to share his experience as a transgender person to persuade others who may be feeling ashamed or reluctant to seek medical care.
The best way to protect yourself from breast cancer is through early detection. The sooner it is found, the better your treatment outcome.