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Male Breast Cancer: Treatment and The Pink Gown

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

By Rod Ritchie



Entering the world of breast cancer treatment can be a unique challenge for a guy. Be prepared to get around the scanning department in a pink gown! The emphasis on the color pink, used extensively in all breast cancer charity promotional materials, means that men are blindsided from coming up with a probable breast cancer diagnosis of a lump behind their nipple.


Dr Google is the first port of call for most men I know after a breast cancer diagnosis. Of course, everyone says, don’t Google, but when there’s a dearth of information, what else can you do? This was particularly so eight years ago when I was diagnosed. In recent years, pink charities have improved awareness of breast cancer in men, but studies have shown the awareness rate in the community is still below 50%. Ideally, breast cancer charities would do more to educate people in raising awareness by stressing the simple fact that this is a genderless disease. Sometimes we are an inconvenient truth, and much of the marketing targets a population being asked to dig deep and donate for a women’s disease. I get this angle but so often I see young female breast cancer patients as the lead image when this cohort is a minority of those newly diagnosed. Women are generally diagnosed in their mid-50s, while men in their mid-60s.


Because men don’t generally check themselves for breast lump, and because their general practitioners are not attuned to looking out for the disease in men, we can easily slip below the radar.


Treatment for men is pretty much the same as that for women. And, until more research is carried out on male patients that might indicate a different path is required, this will likely remain the case. So, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and then a five- or ten-year course of a hormone blocker, most commonly tamoxifen, is common treatment protocol.


Prognosis

For many newly diagnosed advanced breast cancer patients, the first thing they want to know once they are over the shock of the diagnosis is, what is my prognosis? Many use an online prognosis tool, using information about the diagnosis compared to data from large research studies to estimate prognosis. Mind you, this research does not always include men. Five and ten-year survival rates, often presented in the form of graphs, can give life expectancy estimates.


Those who develop Stage IV breast cancer are particularly concerned about their prognosis, obviously. Setting end-points in someone’s life really is a guessing game. Bear in mind that so much depends on how a patient responds to the various treatments and, importantly, the new life-extending treatments that are in the pipeline.


If you know a guy worried about a diagnosis or treatment, you might direct them to these resources:

  • Signs of breast cancer in men.

  • Statistics for men with breast cancer.

  • Surgery is on the cards for all men with this disease.

  • Sex and intimacy following treatment is an important consideration.

  • Metastasis is the spread of cancer from where it began, to other places in the body.

From the blank looks at medical receptionist counters, as in, where’s the patient, to looking for support groups on social media where like-minded men who have been there, done that with all aspects of the disease. But, really, I have met so many supportive women who are only too happy to not only help explain scientific data, and also offer emotional support when the going gets tough.


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Rod Ritchie is a Sydney-born writer, internet publisher, and breast cancer patient activist, living with breast and prostate cancers. Currently he’s NED for both. He’s president of the Board of Directors of the Male Breast Cancer Global Alliance, has a website at MaleBC.org and you can follow him on Twitter @malefitness

His articles for Health Union can be found here: https://advancedbreastcancer.net/author/traveltext



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