Men: Know Your Breast Cancer Risk
National Men’s Health Month, June 2022, is the time men are reminded to take stock of their breast cancer risk. So very often, when it comes to getting timely treatment for a nagging symptom, or indeed other health matters, men can be their own worst enemies. And nowhere is ignorance more prevalent than with breast cancer.
Breast cancer isn't always on men's radar
Even men who are careful about their diet and exercise regularly can be unaware of their breast cancer risk. While heart disease and depression present obvious red flags that early medical attention can help overcome, breast cancer is not on most men’s radars.
All the pink hoopla put out as fundraising efforts by the breast cancer charities has led men to believe they can’t get this disease. Knowledge is power, and since breast cancer is a genderless disease, know your risks and the symptoms.
For the one percent of breast cancers that occur in men, outcomes tend to be less favorable than in women. Often because it never occurs to men, or their doctors, cancer may be a possibility. According to Stephen T. Sinatra M.D., by the time men seek help for their symptoms their malignancies are usually more advanced and more lethal. 1
Signs of male breast cancer
Richard Bleicher, M.D., a surgeon at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, points out that 15% of the men diagnosed with breast cancer have a genetic mutation in their BRCA gene. Try to learn about your family medical history, and if breast, ovarian or prostate cancers are known in close relatives, this can be an indication for you to be on the lookout and even talk to your doctor about your potential risk.2
In any case, if you find a lump:
- Ascertain if it is new in the breast or in the armpit and that it has been present for more than a few weeks.
- Don’t be complacent and don’t wait. Any new finding that persists for more than a few weeks should be brought to a doctor’s attention.
- If you do need to be evaluated, find a breast cancer specialist who is very familiar with the disease.
What does treatment look like for men?
A sonogram or a mammogram followed by a biopsy will determine if you have breast cancer. Treatment involves one of, or a combination of, breast surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Hormone therapy, in the form of a daily tablet, follows for at least five years. Fortunately, early-stage breast cancer has a high survival rate, so the incentive to be proactive with a diagnosis of this disease is certainly there.
Breast cancer is just not something you think about in June, so get yourself up to speed on your risks, the symptoms, and your family history.
And if, when you are first diagnosed, you are unhappy with your evaluation, or find that you are not getting plain answers to your questions, or that you are being dismissed with little explanation, seek a second opinion.
Finally, take a friend or relative to the appointment and take notes that you can refer to later. And remember, the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.
Have you gotten a second (or third) opinion after your breast cancer diagnosis?