Some 58 percent of men in a poll last year said they delayed going to the doctor because they "felt fine" or could "tough out" whatever was ailing them. Many of us worry that our sons, husbands, fathers, etc., might not seek help when something's wrong, or even be aware of the health risks they face, including breast cancer.
June is National Men's Health Month, with National Men's Health Week set to begin June 9. That makes it a good time to remind the men in our lives about the importance of taking care of their health in general, and to remind them that men get breast cancer, too.
Breast cancer in men is rare -- only about 2,300 cases will be diagnosed in men in the U.S. this year and 400 men will die of the disease. It's not surprising that most people don't know that male breast cancer even occurs. Men are not routinely screened for breast cancer, and breast cancer doesn't leap to mind if and when they do seek medical attention.
That was the case with Darrell Skaggs, a 59-year-old U.S. Army Veteran and family man who went to the emergency room with severe pain on the right side of his body. He was shocked to learn that he had breast cancer. Now after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Darrell now has no evidence of the cancer and is actively involved in educating others.
"I can live with that scar on my chest," he said, "but I wouldn't be able to live with the scar on my conscience knowing I had a chance to tell men about breast cancer and didn't."
We've also come to know women like Christine Forst of Rockville, Md., who tells everyone she meets online or in person, about breast cancer in men. Why? Because she lost her beloved husband, Paul, to the disease, and vowed to educate men and women about male breast cancer for the remainder of her life.
We appreciate people like Darrell and Christine who use their experiences to help others. Here's what men should know about breast cancer (all of which, and more, you can find on Susan G. Komen's website).
1. Know the risks. Older age, BRCA2 gene mutation, obesity, and a family history of breast cancer are some factors that increase the risk of breast cancer in men, although most men who are diagnosed have no known risk factors.2. Know the warning signs. The most common sign of breast cancer in men is a painless lump or thickening in the breast, chest or underarm area. Others include:
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin of the breast
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of the nipple (inverted nipple) or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge (rare)
For the record, any change in the breast or nipple should be examined by a doctor. It may not be breast cancer, but could be a benign breast condition that should be checked.
3. Don't delay seeing a health care provider. Some men may be embarrassed about a change in their breast or chest area, and therefore are hesitant to see a doctor, resulting in a delayed diagnosis. Options are greater when breast cancer is found early.
Treatment for breast cancer is basically the same for men and women and may include surgery plus some combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or targeted therapy. Survival for men is about the same as it is for women of the same age and cancer stage at diagnosis. However, men tend to be diagnosed at a later stage than women, possibly because they're less likely to report or act on symptoms early on.
Men also may be less likely to seek social support for their disease, but male survivors tell us it can be lonely and awkward to be the only male at the breast health center. Finding sources of social support through a cancer diagnosis is helpful for all breast cancer patients and co-survivors. Susan G. Komen has a number of other resources available.
One final note: Men are often the primary caregivers or co-survivors of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, and caregiving brings with it a plethora of physical, financial and emotional challenges that also can affect your health. Click here to connect with others, and for resources to make your journey a little easier.
In honor of National Men's Health Month, forward this to the men in your lives.