A recent post in our question and answer section brought to light an interesting and somewhat disturbing aspect of breast cancer and the media: unless you’re REALLY on the ball, you have no idea that men can get breast cancer, just like women.
Surprised? So was I, when I first heard this fact 18 months ago. I wrote a sharepost on it at the time Men Get Breast Cancer, Too and I figured, since Father’s Day is coming up, it’s a good time to bring the subject up again.
A post from Kriss in our Q & A reads as follows: "June 15 is Father’s Day. Why isn’t there a sentence that lets people know MEN GET BREAST CANCER, TOO that they can click on to find out more? More men are getting breast cancer and dying from it. Most people that I talk to think I am kidding when I ask them if they know men get breast cancer. Some even laugh at me until I tell them my husband Brock died almost 4 years ago from breast cancer. Then they ask questions, like why don’t the breast cancer organizations and the news media let people know this terrible fact? Why is it men have to feel humiliated to think they have a ‘woman’s disease?’ Please tell people a father that gets breast cancer can pass it on to their children."
Kriss is right on a number of levels. Although I couldn’t find any evidence that the number of men being diagnosed with breast cancer is growing, it’s true that most Americans are unaware that men can indeed get breast cancer. And yes, "family history" as a risk factor for breast cancer can be passed through dads as well as through moms.
So, in honor of Father’s Day, and all the men in our lives fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, friends here are a few facts to consider:
-The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 1,990 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, and 450 men will die of it. In comparison, an estimated 240,510 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, and about 40,460 died of it.
-A higher percentage of men with breast cancer die of it than women. Statistically speaking, men’s and women’s odds are about the same; but because of lack of education, men are usually diagnosed at a much later stage, with a worse prognosis.
-The vast majority of male breast cancer (MBC) cases are invasive ductal carcinoma, identified via a solid lump in the chest. Fewer men are diagnosed with IBC (inflammatory breast cancer) and Paget’s disease (breast cancer of the nipple).
-The symptoms of MBC are similar to that of female breast cancer. In men, breast cancer usually develops as a firm mass right beneath the nipple. It can also manifest itself by nipple discharge; swelling/itching of the breast; redness/scaliness of the nipple; or changes in the breast’s skin texture.
-Men’s risk factors are somewhat similar to women’s, as follows:
*Age; older men are more likely to get breast cancer than younger men. The average male diagnosed with breast cancer is 65 years old.
*Increased estrogen (in males, usually due to treatment for a medical condition, or certain conditions themselves, including cirrhosis, and Klinefelter syndrome);
*Previous liver or testicular cancer;
*The BRCA2 gene mutation;
*Previous radiation exposure to the chest.
-Men’s treatment is similar to women’s. One chief difference: The next step for most men, after surgery, isn’t chemotherapy, but hormone therapy. Usually only men with advanced disease are given chemo; the majority take tamoxifen.
It’s tempting to read all this and dismiss it as "too farfetched to worry about." I agree; you definitely shouldn’t worry about it. But there’s a difference between worry and awareness. So please let the men in your life know that breast cancer is a possibility, albeit remote. And that, should they ever notice a change in their breasts, they should do the same thing women are taught to do: contact their doctor.
_The John W. Nick Foundation is dedicated to male breast cancer awareness. For more information, visit their Web site. _
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.