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The Stigma Surrounding Male Breast Cancer

By Rod Ritchie

I’ve written a lot about the stigma many men experience when they are given a breast cancer diagnosis. This truly is a big thing, and it very often kicks in, even before diagnosis, when a guy is wondering about a lump behind his nipple or even a nipple discharge. Perhaps a partner or a woman friend might offer advice like, better get that checked out, but many men are still getting over the shock that they could even get this disease and embarrassment when they find themselves entering a world of pink.


I edit men’s breast cancer stories for the Male Breast Cancer Global Alliance and of the approximately 2,600 men diagnosed each year in the United States, only a dozen or so come forward to tell their story. Again, there’s not enough public awareness that breast cancer is genderless.


Of course, it’s very obvious that women are better at not only talking to each other about their ailments, but also seeking medical attention when they are genuinely concerned. And, they have the benefit of public awareness, extensive research on the disease based on the results of trials on hundreds of thousands of women. The good news is that the FDA recently asked research institutions to consider including men when they submitted research proposals. Without the benefit of evidence-based research, men will continue to be treated using the research results of women.


I have to say that I didn’t succumb to much stigma. I’m not sure if it’s because my mother was treated for metastatic breast cancer. I’ve often thought if she had been diagnosed just 10 years later, she would have benefitted from chemotherapy drugs that were just being introduced at the time. As it was, she had a radical mastectomy and very strong, but not well directed, radiation treatment. I was 10 at the time when I caught sight of mom getting out of the shower. Her chest was extensively scarred and this image is still clear in my mind today. She died two years later, aged 40.


For too long now men have been blindsided by this cancer. I’ve made a point of being an active advocate for men with breast cancer through my writing, my patient counseling, my active social media presence, and sometimes through direct action. At a large breast cancer fun run in a capital city a few years ago, I asked for a turn at the microphone. The M.C., looking somewhat askance, passed it to me and I said, this disease is genderless, men, if you feel a lump, get it checked out, or if you have a family history of breast or prostate cancer, join a screening program. The microphone was pulled away from me after this. I’d broken the code of silence surrounding men and this disease. Well, I didn’t care. Unless we all make a noise, we’ll never change anything.


Most important to all the patient advocates I know working on explaining the genderless nature of breast cancer, is to eliminate sexual stereotyping. This can be achieved by lobbying the big pink charities to include us in their education and awareness campaigns, advocating for more research that includes men of all races, and making a genuine effort to reduce the stigma attached to being a man with this disease.


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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, Board of Directors, 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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