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Male Breast Cancer

Posted 2/11/2016

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  Lots of people, maybe most people who don't live in Cancer World, are unaware that men can get breast cancer. Although the disease is 100 times less common in men than in women, it happens and brings all the same medical treatments and worries as well as additional layers of complexity.

  In my decades doing this work, I have known less than ten men with this diagnosis. One, Bob Ritter, is a colleague in Ithaca, New York who has used his diagnosis and experience as a springboard for becoming very active in the cancer community. Clearly I would not be using his name here unless her were a public figure for the disease, and is the Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes. He is also a delightful person.

  In my practice, I have worked with men dealing with the usual plus some gender-specific issues related to breast cancer. Yes, men can have mastectomies and receive mammograms, and they certainly can receive radiation and the same chemotherapy regimens as women do. What is different is the lack of a community, and the ignorance and disbelief in the general public. Several men have told me that when they told someone of their diagnosis, the response was laughter and "C'mon, what do you really have?" Once, years ago, a man attended one of my breast cancer support groups, and, in spite of group efforts to be welcoming, it was a very uncomfortable fit, and he never returned.

  This is an interesting discussion from NPR:

When Men Get Breast Cancer, They Enter A World Of Pink

At 46 years old, Oliver Bogler's reaction to a suspicious lump in his chest might seem typical for a man. He ignored it for three to four months, maybe longer. "I couldn't really imagine I would have this disease," Bogler says. But when he finally "grew up" and went to the doctor, he was pretty quickly diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

Now what's interesting here is that Bogler is a cancer biologist who regularly works with cancer cells, as senior vice president of academic affairs at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Even so, he figured the lump was a benign swelling of breast tissue.

He had good reason to think so. Breast cancer is rare among men. Only 1 percent of all breast cancer cases are in men. Still, that means about 2,600 men receive a diagnosis of breast cancer every year.


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