Living with Breast and Prostate Cancers
Men get prostate cancer, women get breast cancer, right? Wrong, guys like me, with both of these cancers, know that they can go together. In fact, a recent study1 showed that much like women with breast cancer may additionally develop ovarian cancer, around 30% of men who get breast cancer go on to develop prostate cancer. Unfortunately for me, two years post-treatment for breast cancer, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Breast cancer diagnosis
Research has shown that men with breast cancer have a lesser chance of survival than women, primarily because we present later for medical attention, and are therefore diagnosed later.2 Also, many health practitioners are just not looking for breast cancer symptoms in men. My diagnosis was a serious Stage IIIB Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) which required chemotherapy, a mastectomy, including axillary clearance, and 33 doses of radiation.
Lack of clinical trials available for men
New research on breast cancer in men is indicating that it may well be different than in women.3 Therein lies the problem, due to the small cohort of patients, there is a lack of male-specific clinical research and trials, so our treatment is based on that for women. Fortunately, there is lots of research on breast cancer, but males are generally excluded from studies and trials because of our low numbers. More research with men as subjects may well throw new light on the best way to treat males.
Prostate cancer diagnosis
Two years after my breast cancer treatment, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My urologist diagnosed aggressive cancer with a Gleason score of 7 and an expected stage T2 to T3. Noting my breast cancer diagnosis, he really was keen for me to undergo a robotic prostatectomy. With clear margins and negative lymph nodes, no further treatment was necessary. This was good news since breast cancer treatment was long and arduous compared to treatment for this cancer.
Finding support for both cancers
There are obviously lots of men out there who are dealing with prostate cancer and there are a few good forums for sharing information and concerns. While I know many men with prostate cancer, it took me two years to meet just ten guys with breast cancer. Living with an extra cancer is a worry, although I have less concern about prostate cancer, and a possible recurrence, than with breast cancer, which carries a 30% chance of metastasizing.4
BRCA1 gene mutation
After genetic testing, I was found to have a variation of the BRCA1 gene, with an unknown variation. There are many of these ambivalent results thrown up by the mass testing going on and, really, cancer genetics is in its early stages. Fortunately, I am enrolled in a study that hopes to throw new light on the BRCA variations. With breast cancer in my family history, I have made my siblings, kids, and other relatives, breast aware, so that they know to screen themselves regularly. While I didn’t want to worry people unnecessarily, I didn’t want to underplay the threat to them either.
Support for all
As a guy who’s had a mastectomy and a prostatectomy, I have a unique overview of the differences that patients go through at the time of diagnosis and during their different treatments. And, as a member of several Facebook and website forum breast cancer and prostate cancer patient pages, I’m supporting men and women who post with a whole range of questions. Being a well-trained patient advocate, I’ve built up a network of contacts, and I’m always amazed at the similarities between men discussing prostate cancer amongst themselves, and women discussing breast cancer. The men are very open talking about their myriad problems with prostate cancer, including sexual side effects. And, of course, women are really supportive of their cohort. When people are freely discussing their medical conditions, they are empowered, and by better understanding their diseases and their medical teams, better treatment awaits them.
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