24October

Daddy, I Didn’t Realize Breast Cancer Can Happen to You!

My interest in and awareness of men’s breast cancer peaked when I was participating in a health fair given by my local community and I volunteered to do free breast exams. I was looking at the long line of women when I noticed and was surprised to find 2 men (one with a little boy and the other with his wife/girlfriend) waiting in line to get their breasts examined. These men varied in age (one was 30 and the other was 60). Only through the innocence of a child, the little boy looked up at his dad while I was doing his exam and said, ”Daddy, I didn’t know boys and men can have lumps and breast cancer too!”

Both men had a family history of breast cancer (one a mom and the other a sister) and they definitely had breast masses. Both were sent to breast specialists and had mammograms and other tests done, and, yes, unfortunately both of them had breast cancer.

Since then, I have been an advocate to relate to the public online on all the social media sites and offline whenever I talk to groups that, yes, breast cancer awareness pertains not only to women but to males as well. They too can fall prey to this deadly disease, and early surveillance is needed for early intervention.

Still, many men will delay or deny that anything is wrong with them or, for that matter, go see their doctor. This may be the biggest reason why many of the male breast cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage and that it is more likely that their cancers will spread to the chest wall.

Male breast cancer is rare and accounts for about 1% of all breast cancer diagnoses, meaning their lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in a 1000.  According to the American Cancer Society, the estimates for male breast cancer for 2013 are:

  • 2,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year.
  • Approximately 410 men will die from breast cancer this year.

Prognoses of male breast cancer, meaning what are your chances of beating it, are influenced by the stage the tumor is in when it is found, meaning the earlier it is found, the earlier the intervention, and the better your chances are to beat it.

Men are notorious for not making routine doctor appointments. This, my friends, is very unfortunate because routine preventive care can usually find this and other cancers in men, often but not always at earlier stages when they can be treated. Some men may be embarrassed to say anything. Hopefully, it can save your life. A lot of men would not go to the doctor had it not been for the women or significant partners in their lives. If you are like most men, you probably would never consider it to be possible that you could get breast cancer. But YES, IT IS POSSIBLE!

Risk Factors:

  1. Increases with age. Most breast cancers in men are found between 60-70, but do not let that fool you. It can be found at any age.
  2. Exposure to estrogen-related drugs. For example, hormone therapy for prostate cancer and transgender individuals receiving hormonal therapy.
  3. Family history
  4. Klinefelter’s Syndrome – a genetic syndrome where a boy is born with more than one copy of X chromosomes
  5. Liver disease can lower male hormones and increase female hormones.
  6. Obesity. Fat cells can convert male hormones into female hormones.
  7. Radiation exposure. For example, being treated for lung cancer with radiation may increase your risk of breast cancer in the future.
  8. Undescended testicles or having testicles removed may increase the risk of breast cancer.
  9. Certain jobs where there are hot environments such as steel mills. Long exposure may affect testicles and, therefore, your hormone levels.
  10. Heavy alcohol use.

Symptoms:

1)    Any new painless lump or thickening of the breast tissue.
2)    Skin dimpling, puckering, redness or scaling of the nipple or breast tissue.
3)    Nipple retraction.
4)    Nipple discharge.

One of the best things you can do is prepare for when you do go to see the doctor. Write down your questions so you can get the answers you need. Do not rely on your memory because sometimes we get nervous when we’re in the doctor’s office and forget to ask. Here are some suggestions for making your doctor’s visit more productive:

  1. Before you go to the doctor’s office, write down any symptom or concern you have or that you are worried about.
  2. Write down any personal information like major stressors in your life and life changes.
  3. List all medications, vitamins and supplements including how much you take and how often you take them each day.
  4. Consider taking a family member or a friend with you to your appointment to help you remember what the doctor said.
  5. Write down when you first noticed the lump, any discharge, any pain and any changes you have noticed about your health such as coughing and swollen glands.
  6. Know your family history of cancers, especially breast, ovarian, colon, lung, prostate, and others. Also know about heart disease, liver, kidney disease, and more.
  7. When you are at the doctor’s office, ask your doctor if he/she has any restrictions he/she suggests, such as following a special diet or types of exercises you can do and others you should avoid.

What happens when you go to the breast specialist or cancer doctor and you are told you have cancer? Here are some questions you may want to ask:

1)    What type of breast cancer do I have?
2)    Has my cancer spread beyond my breast?
3)    Can my cancer be cured?
4)    What stage is my cancer in?
5)    Will I need more tests?
6)    What treatment do you recommend for me and why? What are my options?
7)     How can I prepare myself for my treatments?
8)    What are some of the potential side effects I may experience?
9)    What is my prognosis, meaning what are my chances for recovery and survival?
10)    Do you have any brochures or printed material as well as websites I can visit to learn more?

There are other things you may want to discuss with your doctor and team of specialists to provide you with the best care mentally, spiritually and physically.

1)    Ideas to help decrease stress including music, yoga, dance, and other activities.
2)    Exercise. Gentle exercise may help, but make sure your doctor knows what you are planning to do so you are safe.
3)    Meditation
4)    Prayer
5)    Relaxation exercises such as guided imagery or hypnosis
6)    Find someone to talk to.
7)    Sleep. It is imperative to your health.

I hope you find this article informative. My objective is to help society realize the importance of early surveillance and detection to help conquer the fears and destruction of our men who need our help with keeping them SAFE!

I’m grateful to those two gentlemen so many years ago who gave me the exposure to their diagnoses, thereby igniting my interest in being such an advocate, not only for breast cancer in general but for both women and men who are our heroes of survival.

My thoughts go out to all of you who have had to face cancer and to those who are family members who have seen our significant others undergo such depths of courage to fight for their lives.

May our voices be heard for early detection and may we impact this deadly disease so that it does not consume our lives.

With much love and hope for life,

Dr. Christina

  • Posted By: DRC Editor
  • Tags: ask your doctor breast cancer men Dr Christina Charbonneau Dr. Christina Dr. Christina Goldstein-Charbonneau male breast cancer male breast cancer awareness male breast cancer screening male cancer screening man breast tumor man lump in chest men and breast cancer men get breast cancer questions for your doctor
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