Somewhere in the back of his mind, 77 year-old Donald knew that men could get breast cancer. He remembered the sad case of a local man in his early 50s who succumbed to the disease after it spread to vital organs.
On vacation earlier this year, he noticed a hardness in his left breast while showering. His wife, Virginia, thought the nipple appeared inverted and a darker color than unusual. Donald readily admits that without his wife’s observation and insistence that they cut their vacation short, he likely would have procrastinated and delayed seeing a doctor.
How does it feel to be a man with breast cancer?
A few tests and several weeks later, the shocking diagnosis of breast cancer became reality. Cancer is cancer and it’s never a welcome diagnosis. But how does it feel to be a man with breast cancer? Donald says, “Initially, I wanted to tell people I had a ‘chest cancer’ or a ‘breast tumor.’ However, we decided to ‘tell it like it is’ largely out of respect to our deceased young man. I do sort of joke about having a ‘woman’s disease,’ but responses are very supportive.”
Donald hopes that his openness will help other men to realize that they can get breast cancer, too, and he encourages men to promptly check out any suspicions. He suggests that men seek references from others, most likely women, who have had breast cancer and can refer them to specialists and support.
“Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed, it’s too important to you and your loved ones to delay treatment,” he cautions.
As for Donald and Virginia, the word “cancer” still elicits a certain amount of fear, but they are very optimistic about his prognosis. He is still undergoing chemotherapy and has yet to begin radiation treatment. The St. Louis Cancer and Breast Institute doctors and staff, along with community religious groups provide support and encouragement for which he is very grateful. He hasn’t actually felt the need to join a support group, but says that may come later.
Rare, but Not Unimportant
Breast cancer in women is about 100 times more common than in men, says surgical oncologist Dr. Diane Radford, who specializes in breast cancer and breast diseases. “There are just under 2,000 new cases of breast cancer in men in the U.S. per year, and just under 400 deaths. To put in perspective almost 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year.”
Because male breast cancer is not a common occurrence, many people don’t even realize men can get breast cancer. When men do find a lump or something unusual on their chest, they generally don’t think of cancer and put off going to the doctor. That’s a big mistake because, as Dr. Radford explains, “Stage for stage cure rates for male breast cancer are similar to females, however, males are more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced stage and with lymph node involvement.”
As with women, she says, any symptoms or signs need to be evaluated. The vast majority of breast cancers in men are of the ductal type.
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