October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month—Even for Men

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month—Even for Men

By Leslie Megyeri

My wife recently lost the first boss she ever worked for to breast cancer. He was a kind, well-liked, gentle man, but when first diagnosed, he only told his male friends in a confidential manner because he was embarrassed to talk of it and did not want to make it public. His concern about his breast lump, his eventual surgery and then radiation certainly contributed to an extended life, but his example should be a lesson to all men, especially during October. Men must remember that since they do have breast tissue, they can contract breast cancer.   

What are the statistics on breast cancer?

Granted, it is not widespread, but over the past couple of years, it has been found in 1 percent of all men which amounts to 2,000 cases each year and 440 deaths. It does boast a 5-year survival rate for 84 percent of the men in which it is found, but that depends on the stage of the disease when detected.

If it is confined only to the breast, the 5-year survival rate is 96 percent. The most common symptoms are a hard lump in the breast area, which is usually painless, or nipple retraction, ulceration and discharge. Certainly, all lumps are not cancerous and could very well be enlarged breast tissue, a fatty lump or a fluid-filled cyst. 

Breast cancer cells must divide 30 times before a lump can be felt, and up to the 28th cell division, neither the man nor his doctor can detect it by hand. With most breast cancers, each division takes one to two months, so by the time you feel a cancerous lump, it has most likely been in your body for two to five years.  

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, for both men and women.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, for both men and women.

In 2020, 2,600 men are expected to be diagnosed and it is estimated 520 men will die from the disease. A man’s lifetime risk of being diagnosed is one in 833, so if one can feel a lump that is round like a marble or flat like a button, it would behoove him to get a mammogram, according to the Mayo Clinic’s report on Breast Cancer Risk for Men.  

Due to the anatomy of the male breast, the cancer can spread to surrounding tissue faster than it can in women. Men are also less aware of the signs of breast cancer and are less likely to check their breasts, so by the time, the signs of the disease become obvious, the cancer has usually reached a more advanced stage. Thus, after age 35, men should make breast exams part of their annual physicals. The only way to confirm whether the cyst or a tumor is cancerous is to have it biopsied, which is to surgically remove some tissue from it to check under a microscope for cancer cells. 

The most common symptoms men should be aware of are a new lump in the breast or armpit, a thickening or swelling or increase in size and shape of the lump, an irritation or dimpling in the skin, redness or flaky skin in the nipple area, a pulling in of the nipple, pain in the nipple area, or discharge from the nipple including blood. The first places it spreads are to the lymph nodes under the arm, inside the breast and near the collarbone. If it spreads beyond those areas, it is usually metastatic. 

Of course, aging is an important risk factor for the development of breast cancer in men, but family history, inherited gene mutations, exposure to radiation, overuse of alcohol, liver disease, and estrogen treatment are other risk factors. Doctors also cite obesity, testicular problems, gynecomastia which is a condition that causes the growth of abnormally large breasts in males, and Klinefelter’s Syndrome, a genetic condition when boys are born with more than one copy of the X chromosome, as other risk factors.

The most common male breast cancer diagnosis begins in the milk ducts which is called ductal carcinoma but if diagnosed at an early stage, men can take comfort in the fact that it can be cured. 

And it is thanks to a few well-known celebrities that awareness of male breast cancer has been heightened and the stigma is lessening. For example, Rod Roddy, a seventeen-year game show announcer on the Price is Right, had a mastectomy but died in 2003. Senator Edward Brooke, the first African American U.S. Senator to serve in Congress, thought he had pulled a muscle gardening, but he had a double mastectomy, recovered and died at age 95. 

Peter Criss, drummer for the group Kiss, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, found a lump in his left breast after working out. He underwent successful surgery and has become an outspoken advocate for male breast cancer awareness. So, men, join women this October and become aware of your breasts as well. As Criss warns, “You don’t need boobs to get breast cancer.” 

Musician Peter Criss, posing with his memoir “Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss.” Image from Grantland.com

“you don’t need boobs to get breast cancer.”

PETER CRISS

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