Breast cancer in men: Shame and ignorance obscures a lethal American health issue

About 1 out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the United States is found in a man, as per CDC

Breast cancer in men: Shame and ignorance obscures a lethal American health issue
From Richard Roundtree (bottom R) to Rod Roddy (top R), several male celebs have been diagnosed with breast cancer (Leon Bennett and Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images)
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Even if one is not diagnosed with it, breast cancer feels personal. And while the vast majority of those detected with the disease are female, there is no denying that the opposite gender is not immune either. As per CDC, about 1 out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the United States is found in a man. American Cancer Society states that more than 2,700 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and approximately 530 men die from the disease. According to Breast Cancer Research Foundation, about one in 833 men will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. However, men are often diagnosed with this cancer at a more advanced stage, says the report by Breastcancer.org. But why? Well, the stigmatization.

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Richard Roundtree, who played the lead character in the 1971 classic ‘Shaft’, shared the shame he felt when he was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. In 2009, he wrote on Essence magazine, “I was taking a shower in Costa Rica I felt this lump. I knew it wasn’t ordinary, so I finished work about a week later and had my doctor check it out. He said it’s nothing to worry about but let me stick a needle in it anyway. Three days later I received the we-need-to-talk call that immediately sent up red flags for me like crazy. When he sat me down and told me I had cancer so many things went through my mind but the first was, “Wait, did he just say I had breast cancer?” “That word scared the beejeezus out of me! I couldn’t relate and I thought he was questioning my manhood because women die from this, not men,” Roundtree said and added, "But I soon learned that this disease is not gender-based."

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Richard Roundtree attends the
Richard Roundtree attends the 'Moving On' Premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 13, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario (Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

Celebs who battled breast cancer

Roundtree, who survived after a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, was not the only one; many famous men shared their ordeal attached to this disease. Peter Criss, the legendary drummer for hard rock super-group Kiss who survived breast cancer in 2008 told Fox News in 2016, "As a man, I thought I must have pulled a muscle, and being in spandex and lipstick and high heels most of my life, I’m pretty used to my body. I just felt like something was wrong and I told her (Criss’ wife Gigi) so she mentioned it to the doctor. The doctor said if you were my husband I would send you over to New York Presbyterian to see Dr Switzel. But that’s a cancer hospital for women. She goes, 'Yeah but I think you should go there.' It blew my mind walking into a huge room like this nothing but women, no men, except for their husbands with them. It felt really uncomfortable for me, and it actually scared the pants off of me." Rod Roddy, 'Come on down!' show announcer, was one of the few who lost the battle in 2002. But one can fight it out if detected on right time. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let's dig into the causes and find out about the symptoms that can save one from this cancer. 

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Kinds of breast cancer in men

As per CDC, the most common kinds of breast cancer in men are the same kinds in women.

1) Invasive ductal carcinoma: In this, the cancer cells begin in the ducts and then grow outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. It also spreads to other parts of the body.

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2) Invasive lobular carcinoma: Cancer cells begin in the lobules and then spread from the lobules to the breast tissues that are close by. These cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.

3) Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): This is a disease that may lead to invasive breast cancer. The cancer cells are only in the lining of the ducts, and have not spread to other tissues in the breast.

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Gynecomastia

This is the most common male breast disorder. As per Cancer.org, it is not a tumor but rather an increase in the amount of a man's breast tissue. Usually, men have too little breast tissue to be felt or noticed. Gynecomastia can appear as a button-like or disk-like growth under the nipple, which can be felt and sometimes seen.

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Symtoms of breast cancer

The most common symptoms of breast cancer in men are a lump or swelling in the breast, redness or flaky skin in the breast, irritation or dimpling of breast skin, nipple discharge and pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area, states CDC.

Treatment for men with breast cancer

Radiation therapy: This sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. Radiation after surgery can kill cancer cells that may not be seen during surgery. Radiation may also be done before surgery to shrink the tumor.

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Chemotherapy: This is the use of anticancer medicines to kill cancer cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. 

Hormone therapy: In some cases, hormones can kill cancer cells, slow the growth of cancer cells, or stop cancer cells from growing. This type of therapy as a cancer treatment involves taking substances to interfere with the activity of hormones or to stop the production of hormones.

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Adjuvant therapy: This is a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy given after surgery. It is used to kill any cancer cells that can’t be seen, states Hopkinsmedicine. 

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