It started eight years ago, when a male friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. He underwent bilateral mastectomies, and went from a vibrant, outgoing man to a virtual shell of himself. I couldn’t believe he was the only one, so I took my mission to Facebook. I connected with a woman in Kansas City, Peggy Eddy Miller, whose son Bret found a lump in his breast at the age of 17. For seven years, his doctors told him he was just becoming a "man" and not to worry. Then, finally, they discovered he had breast cancer. Bret had a mastectomy, and survived.
He went on to become a passionate and effective advocate and founded the Bret Miller 1T Foundation. In 2013, determined that no man would ever have to face a breast cancer diagnosis alone again, Bret’s mother Peggy and I launched the Male Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) as a virtual gathering place for men with breast cancer, and a source of information and guidance for navigating the often difficult journey of a male breast cancer diagnosis. And soon we began to connect with them. The male survivors.
And we began to document their stories. Tall men, short, slim, white, black, Asian, gay and straight, all harboring what they believed was their own dirty little secret. Tales of disbelief from families, friends and even doctors, pink hospital gowns and women’s mammography centers. Over the years, we learned that these men—hundreds of them ranging in age from 17 to 75—were suffering in silence. Alone and ashamed, afraid of being called a female, thought to be a freak—things they had heard, and often believed, until now…
Over the past four years, we have connected with more than 300 male breast cancer survivors from around the world to assist the MBCC with building advocacy and furthering our awareness campaigns. And because there is strength in numbers, we pulled together a diverse consortium of breast cancer organizations to carry our message around the globe that “men get breast cancer, too.” Today, the men that we meet talk freely and openly about their experiences with one another, and with women and men around the world who are working to educate others. They are our messengers of hope, and they live not only in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, Australia, The Netherlands, Wales, Japan, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Bangladesh, and the list is growing.
And right here in the U.S., one by one, our governors are giving their support in an official way: this October, we succeeded in garnering official proclamations designating the third week in October (October 15-21) as “Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week” from 35 states (New Jersey and Massachusetts have made it permanent) who are committed to helping spread awareness.
Their help, will most definitely save lives. In 2017, it is estimated that in the United States, 2,470 men will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer, and 460 men will die of the disease; a man’s lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. So, it’s important that men are aware of the risk factors and warning signs:
Know the risk factors
Having one or more of these factors does not mean that a man will develop breast cancer; it just indicates an increased “risk” of developing the disease.
- Aging (men over 65 are at greater risk)
- Hormonal imbalance
- Exposure to radiation therapy
- Estrogen treatment
- A family history of breast cancer
- Genetic mutations (i.e. BRCA2)
- Klinefelter’s syndrome
- Chronic liver disease
- Testicular conditions
Know the symptoms
Any change in the breast or nipple can be a warning sign. These symptoms may also be signs of a benign (non-cancer) breast condition.
- Lump, hard knot or thickening in the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge
- New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away
Don’t ignore it!
Survival rates for men are about the same as for women with the same stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis. But breast cancer is often undiagnosed in men until later stages due to a lack of awareness and because of fear, or worry, or embarrassment. Because of this later detection, the percentage of men who die of the disease is higher than that of women.
- Don’t ignore the warning signs—talk to your doctor immediately.
- Have your doctor do an annual clinical breast exam.
For more information on male breast cancer, or to get involved, contact Cheri L. Ambrose at email@example.com or 973-224-0634.