One Transgender Man’s Story of Getting Breast Cancer
Breast cancer in men is rare, although 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 indicate that they are not at risk. Currently, a few studies are underway, requiring years’ worth of work to uncover 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 5-year study to monitor the health of adolescent transgender individuals and the hormonal effects on cancer risk.
Image credit: Wisconsin State Journal
It is quite rare for a man to be suffering from breast cancer. But there are men as well who suffer from breast cancer and the risk in terms of breast cancer in transgender is yet to be determined. Casey Saxton who has been born and raised as a woman underwent a gender transformation to man after which he was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In 2010 he went on to get his breast removed but in 2015 he felt a lump just beneath his right armpit. Initially he thought it was scar tissue from the surgery since he would not have even thought that he could get breast cancer. Hence due to his prior bad experiences with the doctor he avoided any visits to the doctor. But gradually the lump began throbbing after which he underwent a cancer screening test. It was here that it got confirmed that he had breast cancer and at stage 3A.
His case highlights few of the challenges which a transgender individual has to face in the medical care. Since they are often reluctant to seek medical care with the fear of being discriminated as well as not getting an appropriate insurance coverage. As per Dr Mark treating Saxton said that removing a large portion of his breast tissue would reduce the risk of cancer but it would not in any way eliminate the condition altogether.
He stated that the testosterone treatment taken by Saxton somehow reduced his risk in one way but it also increased the risk in another. Most of the transgender individuals also get their ovaries removed which further reduces the risk of breast cancer but Saxton did no remove his ovaries. By mid-2016, Saxton’s breast cancer started to spread to his lymph nodes and was turning out to be aggressive. After a lot of explaining, the insurance company proceeded to cover for his care. He underwent numerous surgeries to get the tumor removed as well as the surrounding cancerous lymph nodes.
After completing around eight rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries and four weeks of radiation Saxton is now in the recovery phase. He has been given tamoxifen which is known to block the estrogen so as to prevent the re-occurrence of breast cancer. He also experienced menopausal symptoms of hot flashes. These symptoms were those which the testosterone treatment had blocked earlier.
Saxton was aware that continuing with this testosterone treatment would increase the risk of breast cancer and stopping it would also make it harder for him to live as a man hence he discussed the pros and cons with his doctor who suggested that he continued with his testosterone treatment. Currently Saxton carries out routine visits to the doctor and he is also becoming more social. He also chooses to share his experience as a transgender person so as to persuade others who may be feeling ashamed or very much reluctant to go in for medical care.
The best way to protect yourself from breast cancer is early detection. The sooner it is detected, the easier it would become for treatment.