Words By Alicia Wilson
Every year in October, we always scream “Save the boobs!” You see pink everywhere and those funny little buttons about boobs. It is truly a month for women to come together and support each other, and that is incredible. But, I have to ask you this question. Why do we not say “Save the pecs” too?
I know having a conversation about breast cancer in men can be kind of difficult, especially since so many men don’t prioritize their health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, close to 60 percent of men don’t regularly see a doctor, going only when seriously ill. The survey found that only three in five men get annual physicals and nearly half of the 500 men surveyed said their health is simply something they don’t talk about. Unfortunately, because men are not accustomed to getting examinations, the cancer can often become more advanced before discovery, making it more difficult to treat properly.
Daniel Brown’s Story
Back in the early 2000s, my grandfather, Daniel Brown, was diagnosed with breast cancer during one of his routine check-ups at the doctor. For a long time, he showed no signs of breast cancer. Given that he was someone who always valued and took great care of his health, the doctor was surprised at what he found.
My grandfather entered into an experimental program presented by Scott and White hospital. Luckily, he did not have to go through chemo. Instead, he was part of this program for 10 years. He received a shot every day to make sure the cancer was receding. And he was presented with a certificate upon completing the program. This life-changing program stopped the cancer from ever coming back. Fortunately for him, the cancer was found before it was too late.
Getting the Facts
Due to the fact that breast cancer is a rare disease for men, most men don’t know how to do an examination or even how to ask for one. According to breastcancer.org, “Less than 1% of all breast cancer cases occur in men. This year, about 2,650 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease, and an estimated 530 men are expected to die from breast cancer. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 833.”
Despite the diagnosis being so uncommon, the overall survival rate for men with breast cancer is far lower than it is for women. The reason for this is the lack of treatment both seeked out and provided to men with breast cancer. While the rate for women who have breast cancer is much higher, they have a better chance of survival if diagnosed — because women do self-examinations and are far more likely to get a health check-up regularly. This is why, when it comes to breast cancer, as a community, we need to be more open about this conversation. We have to understand that men are at a higher risk of not surviving if they aren’t willing to visit their doctor.
According to breastcancer.org, about 13% of men and 11.4% of women who are diagnosed each year with breast cancer are Black people. When it comes to Black men, they are not recovering at alarming rates compared to white men. Black men are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age than white men. And Black men are 76% more likely to die from breast cancer than white men. I understand that our community has a very difficult history when it comes to medical care, but we have to understand that we are at high risk.
Touch Your Chest: Treatment and Prevention
I know reading all of these statistics can be very scary. That is why it’s so important to learn about prevention and know all the options for treatment.
When it comes to breast cancer in men, there are two types of treatment: surgery and hormone therapy. According to cancer.gov, the type of surgery provided to breast cancer patients is a modified radical mastectomy. This entails the removal of the breast, many of the lymph nodes under the arm, the lining over the chest muscles and sometimes part of the chest wall muscles. Breast-conserving surgery, an operation to remove the cancer with removing the breast itself, is also used for some men with breast cancer. A lumpectomy is done to remove the tumor (lump) and a small amount of normal tissue around it. Radiation therapy is given after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. The survival rate for a standard radical mastectomy is five years with 81% and a modified radical mastectomy is 84%.
Hormone therapy is another form of cancer treatment that removes hormones, stopping cancer cells from growing. Some hormones cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach, surgery, radiation therapy or medication can be used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working.
There are several ways in which you can prevent breast cancer in men. Lowering your consumption of alcohol is one. Making sure that you’re staying very active in your life and watching what you eat is another. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a couch potato myself, but obesity has been shown to be a factor in getting diagnosed with breast cancer. Also, remember that there are new hormones being added to the food we eat that we’re not there decades ago. So, you’ll want to pay attention to what’s in the food that you’re eating.
Another important step in prevention is making a doctor’s appointment to find out if breast cancer runs in your family. If it does, you are likely at a higher risk for obtaining the disease yourself. However, you can catch the cancer early by doing self examinations regularly. Check out breastcancer.org and learn how to do a self examination at home.
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Always remember that when it comes to breast cancer, it’s all about being ahead of the game. We have to understand that cancer knows no gender. And once you get to a certain age, it is crucial to attend regular check-ups. Your life could depend on it. So this month, remember to save the boobs and the pecs. Talk to your doctor about your family history and do a self examination at home or request one when you go for your yearly check-up.