All too often, breast cancer is thought of as being a woman’s disease, with the term ‘breast’ indicating those without breasts in the general sense of the word are immune.
However, people do not often consider how men also have a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples, meaning they are also vulnerable to getting breast cancer and need to be aware of the symptoms.
Men over the age of 60 are usually the ones to be affected by male breast cancer, according to the NHS, however younger men can also be at risk.
According to Breast Cancer Care, approximately 390 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, compared with around 55,000 women.
Without enough public awareness about male breast cancer, men can all too often be left in the dark when it comes to detecting early – and potentially life saving – symptoms.
Signs of breast cancer in men can include a lump in the breast tissue, which is typically hard and and painless, and swelling of the chest area. Nipple discharge, which can be bloody, and inverted nipples are also signs that you should get checked out with your GP.
As part of their brilliantly informative Booberang campaign, which educates people on how to check their breast tissue, Breast Cancer Care have included helpful information specifically for men.
Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care, Jane Murphy, told UNILAD:
A common misconception is that only women get breast cancer, but in fact, both men and women have breast tissue.
Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast tissue begin to divide and grow in an abnormal way. There are several types of breast cancer which can all be diagnosed at different stages and can grow at different rates.
We know breast cancer can have a devastating effect and because it’s rare, men with the disease often feel very isolated or embarrassed about discussing their diagnosis with others.
🎉 Thanks to all your votes and support our #Booberang video has been shortlisted for a @CharityFilm_ Award! Now it's down to the judges to pick the finalists 🤞@LeoBurnettLDN @NovaDando pic.twitter.com/fOE5SJPVxS
— Breast Cancer Care (@BCCare) January 9, 2019
Men suffering from or worried about breast cancer need to know they are not alone. This is a disease that affects men across the globe, who all have their own uniquely personal story to share.
Andy from Reading, 47, received a breast cancer diagnosis in December 2013. He had experienced a ‘sharp pain’ in his left nipple earlier in the year. When it returned, he knew – after some encouragement from his wife – that he needed to see a doctor.
Andy regards himself as ‘lucky’, as the cancer hadn’t spread to anywhere else in his body, unlike in many tragic cases where a diagnosis comes too late for anything to be done.
However, he knows he would have acted sooner had he been been more aware about inverted nipples. Andy noted how he had been unable to even detect a lump, with men having less breast tissue than women to feel for abnormalities.
— Male Breast Cancer (@MBCC_MHBT) September 3, 2016
Andy underwent a mastectomy as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, with his treatment made more bearable by his strong and loving support network.
Andy revealed to UNILAD how he now spreads awareness about male breast cancer with other men, even when at the barbers:
I had my first haircut towards the end of the year, after I’d had treatment. And it was just a bit thin, and the barber said something like, I don’t know, it was very thin.
And I said, ‘yeah, it’s only just grown back from chemo’. And he was like, ‘oh right, you’ve had chemo? What was that all about?’
And I said, ‘breast cancer’. He said, ‘breast cancer! On men?’ […] And I was paying, and he came running out of his back room to say, ‘I’ve just checked my nipple, it’s alright, don’t worry about it!’
— Male Breast Cancer (@MBCC_MHBT) January 30, 2019
Heroic Andy has also helped to spread the word on a much larger scale. He modelled in Breast Cancer Care’s The Show London 2017, and has even taken part in a daring abseil in the name of fighting breast cancer.
Andy told UNILAD how sparking conversation as well as raising money is crucial at such events:
People who are there [at the show] are sort of aware, a lot of people in the audience knew people who were part of the show, or knew people who had been affected by breast cancer.
So they knew that men get breast cancer. The abseil I did was through work, so everyone was doing stuff for different charities.
And people would say, ‘so what are you raising money for?’ I said, ‘Breast Cancer Care. Because I’ve had breast cancer’. ‘You’ve had breast cancer?’
So you know what I mean? It’s getting it out there.
@wearepreventBC I have discovered these amazing people at #SABCS . https://t.co/4fx2pd0apv have some great resource for men with and worried about male breast cancer. Maybe we could link them in to our male breast cancer resources @CheckThemBret @MBCC_MHBT #malebreastcancer pic.twitter.com/UdksiDMl2a
— james harvey (@nwbreastsurgeon) December 6, 2018
Brett Miller from Kansas founded The Male Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) in 2014. A survivor himself, Brett first noticed symptoms when he was just 17 years old. However his concerns were dismissed by not one but two doctors.
Seven years later, Brett asked a doctor to look at the lump, which was removed after a sonogram and mammogram. The doctor reportedly didn’t seem too worried at the time, but later rang him to give the shock diagnosis: Brett had breast cancer.
Following a mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy, Brett is thankfully ‘free and clear of cancer for good’. He now dedicates himself to spreading awareness about male breast cancer, encouraging other men to understand their bodies and take notice of any changes to their breast tissue.
Speaking with UNILAD, Brett spoke about the stigma surrounding male breast cancer, which prevents men from opening up about their diagnosis:
I think most men don’t speak about it because they think Pink and Pink is women only. It’s emasculating to hear the words you have breast cancer because men think you have to physically have breasts like a woman to get breast cancer.
[…] If men were included more when talking about breast cancer I would think that more would be comfortable talking about it. But since we aren’t it’s tough to speak up without some embarrassment.
I am at peace with it now, knowing I will always be out numbered and have to be a voice for men, because I was so young when I was diagnosed, I didn’t care what others thought. I would speak up and out and if someone had that look of ‘I don’t believe you’ I would just lift up my shirt and show them my scar.
— Male Breast Cancer (@MBCC_MHBT) January 29, 2019
Brett has suggested how steps can be taken to raise awareness of male breast cancer. For example, acts such as incorporating blue into the pink ribbon and having male breast cancer survivors act as spokesmen could have a powerful effect.
Although male breast cancer sufferers receive the same medical treatment as women for their tumour, men often face a different set of challenges to women due to lack of awareness.
With a comparatively lower number of male sufferers, there still isn’t enough research into male breast cancer and Brett believes if more men were vocal about their diagnosis, then they could start pushing for more research.
Brett explained how the MBCC was established as a means of bringing men together to make them aware they are not alone:
There are many men out there across the world that are affected by breast cancer. We are here for you to help guide you along the way.
Although we have no money to financially assist you we do have heart and we care for you. We are that support system you thought you might not have.
We will get you the assistance you need through our many networks we have established along the way. You will beat this ugly disease and tell your story to all, so that we can change the stigma.
Brett expressed his hopes that hope that MBCC will one become the ‘next big breast cancer foundation’, helping support research for both men and women in a bid to end breast cancer once and for all.
— Male Breast Cancer (@MBCC_MHBT) October 17, 2018
The first step towards raising awareness is communication and understanding, and this is something we can all do among family and friends.
Chat to your mates about what to look out for, and encourage them to seek help if they notice an unusual changes. And become familiar with your own breast tissue, knowing what feels and looks normal for you.
For care, support and information, call Breast Cancer Care’s expert nurses on 0808 800 6000 or visit breastcancercare.org.uk
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]