Not Just the Girls: Male Breast Cancer is Real And Ignorance Kills
It’s breast cancer awareness month, and while women get this form of cancer more - men are affected too!
Quick, think of breast cancer.
Did you think of women, pinkness, marathons, and boobs?
Maybe it’s the over-sexualization of breasts or the lack of biology lessons, but we often forget one crucial detail - everyone has breasts, women’s are just noticed (way) more.
Jagdesh Muku, a 62-year-old architectural consultant in Delhi, noticed a small lump, the size of a pearl near his breast in the shower. Upon insistence from his doctor daughter, he got the lump checked. His wife tells me the first thing she said was, “I didn't know men could get this.”
Men with Breast Cancer: Rare, But with Higher Mortality
Out of all cancers, breast cancer is one of the most treatable if caught early. In India, getting women to get checked is in itself a huge task, with the stigma around hospitals still existing and access being a problem. And the link between the disease and women is so entrenched that other genders either don't know they could get it too or are ashamed to be associated with a woman’s illness.
Breast cancer affects anyone with breast tissue, and while rare, studies say that about 1.03 % of all breast cancer cases in India are men.
Speaking to FIT, Dr Kanchan Kaur, director of breast services at Cancer Institute, Medanta and Muku’s doctor says, “ For every 100 breast cancers, 99 will be women and 1 will be a man.”
“Breast cancer in men comes with its share of psychological issues which are exclusive to their gender. Breasts are conventionally linked to a woman’s identity and for a man to develop a disease of the breast, often leads them to become very confused and troubled. Many men feel shame as they feel like the odd ones out especially in the oncology clinic where majority patients are women. This fear of social stigma invariably leads to delay in clinical presentation. But if they come in time, male breast cancer treatment is as successful as for women.”Dr Kanchan Kaur
Muku was 58 when he was diagnosed, and most men who get breast cancer are in their 60s and 70s.
It also happens to young men - it's rare but it does happen. Muku admits he was confused as to WHY he got it, he did know that cancer can develop in any part of the body. “I ate well, didn’t smoke and have very limited alcohol since the past two decades,” he says.
According to the American Cancer Society, the exact causes of breast cancer in men remain a mystery but there are a number of risk factors at play. Some include:
- Old age
- Liver disease
- an undescended testicle
- Mumps during adulthood
- Gynecomasty or excessive development of the male breasts
- thyroid conditions
And how does the treatment work for men with breast cancer? Much the same way as it does for women.
“After I got checked, I got a mastectomy and chemotherapy. The entire process - from discovering the lump to getting treated - took less than a year. Post-operation I just have to get a check-up every 3-5 months.”Jagdesh Muku
Dr Kaur adds, “Mr Muku got diagnosed because he was alert and came to me without much delay after he felt the small lump. He went on to have standard treatments and responded well to them. In male breast cancer, the surgical option almost always is total breast removal and what is almost never discussed is reconstructive surgery. There are however some men who are not comfortable without a breast and they must discuss this with their surgeon.”
A very recent study published on 22 October in Science Daily, said that men with breast cancer are likely to face higher mortality rates. This could be due to lifestyle differences like increased alcohol consumption and obesity or a lower response to the estrogen-treatment that works on women. It could also be due to socio-cultural factors like ignorance, stigma and not getting checked in time.
The reverse of this, where women are underdiagnosed because of male-first focussed research occurs in spades. But research and medical gender bias affect everyone and this study highlights the need for more research on male breast cancer and more research on diseases outside of gender binaries.
The connect of breast cancer and pinkness is a manufactured truth for a society that likes binaries. Baby boy? You need those blue sheets. Got a girl? You have to dress her in pink onesies.
Of course, this is not to take the focus off women - so rarely in medicine and otherwise do women get focussed attention anyway. But the fact is that breast cancer is gender-neutral, and a nuanced understanding of the disease frees it from stigma and enables everyone to get the help they need.
“Breast cancer is becoming very common and can affect anyone . As men are not generally expected to have this disease , the chances of missing in them is very common It is strongly advisable for everyone , whether it’s a man or a woman , that one must be aware of changes in ones body. Any change should be bought to the attention of a doctor at the earliest. Cancerous lumps are often silent and painfree, which is why it is even more important to be alert.”Dr Kanchan Kaur
So basically - you, man, woman, everybody - get checked NOW!
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