Gender Bias in Male Breast Cancer

As editor of the Male Breast Cancer Coalition’s Survivor Stories series, I’ve learned that men with breast cancer are very reluctant to identify themselves as survivors of what really is considered a women’s disease. From reading the stories of around 100 male patients, I’ve gathered there are many reasons very few men come out in public, either as advocates or even to relate their experiences going through diagnosis and treatment.

It appears to me that institutionalized biases, that are inherent in health professionals and health providers, are based on public perceptions. Many public education programs, along with promotional material from the pink charities where the prime goal is the raise funds, have distorted the narrative. While less than one percent of new cases occur in men, little research has been carried out on the psychological aspects of a breast cancer diagnosis for men.1

Degender male breast cancer

If guys are to be fairly treated when dealing with a life-changing disease such as breast cancer, the institutionalized casual sexism needs to be eliminated. And along with the outdated attitudes, the procedures at breast care clinics need changing. For instance, blue gowns could be offered as an alternative to the pink ones distributed to men undergoing scans and tests. And, the pink charities need to be aware that they are prone to trivializing and sexualizing this disease which is very inappropriate for both women and men. At the same time, companies are riding on the backs of charities to use October, the fundraising month, to improve their bottom line.

Some changes which would help men with how breast cancer

  1. Reduce the sexual stereotyping of breast cancer.
  2. Include some blue among the pink.
  3. Allocate a day in October to publicize male breast cancer.
  4. Put aside one percent of funds raised for research on male breast cancer.
  5. Provide a screening program for men with a hereditary predisposition to breast cancer.
  6. Provide inclusive imagery to show the disease exists in men.
  7. Support for male breast cancer patients and their caregivers.

My friends on social media are predominately women. We support each other and really don’t make a big deal of the gender aspect of this disease. And, I’m really bonded with the many men I know with this disease and grieve the several who have passed in recent years. As to medical professionals, it was a team of women who saved my life. These included the surgeon, the medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and my general physician.

Male breast cancer is moving forward

I don’t think men are deliberately ignored, and I certainly understand we are small in numbers. But, when you get this disease as a man, you don’t have an easier task in dealing with it. As an active patient advocate, I provide concern and empathy with all those people I come into contact with. Fortunately, I can see changes in the way the breast cancer charities are including men in their promotional material. I can see pages on websites that have been expanded to include us and our concerns. Just recently, the FDA recommended, where possible, men are included in trials and studies.2 I’ve even seen a male friend appear in a promotional video. Men are on track for equality in this area, and that can’t be a bad thing.

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