When we think of October, we think cool nights, fall colors, Halloween, and more recently “Pinktober.” October is breast cancer awareness month, which is why you’ve been seeing more fundraising events, complete with pink ribbons, bracelets, tee shirts, and more.
But what’s missing in the media frenzy is that breast cancer isn’t just a female concern—many men develop it, too.
Not too long ago, my wife Jan’s son was one of the approximately 1,000 men diagnosed annually with breast cancer. Like most of you who have a male family with breast cancer, to say that we were shocked would be an understatement. Jan’s is not a family with a history of breast cancer, yet it has affected two of her three children—both a son and daughter.
Fortunately, her son had intraductal carcinoma (IDC) in situ, meaning that the tumor was encapsulated within the mammary duct and most likely had not spread. Nonetheless, he endured all that women do in terms of grappling with what “IDC in situ” would all mean for him, his wife, and his young family. As parents, we jumped on that emotional rollercoaster that’s all too familiar to parents all over the world in the same situation.
Luckily, our son had had a recognizable symptom that led him to seek early medical attention: a blood stain on his tee shirt. The first time it happened he rationalized that it was a coffee stain. The second time, he was on it, texting his mom hoping for reassurance….
After a surgical mastectomy of his left breast, his surgeons were satisfied that chemotherapy and radiation would not be necessary—what a relief! But still, what he bravely endured was a real challenge for him and his family.
So this October our message is that ALL of us—men and women—need to be aware that breast cancer is still a big health threat. We need know our risk factors, and be alert to any early symptom.
For men symptoms can include:
- Bleeding, or any type of discharge, from the nipple
- An inverted nipple
- Dimpling, puckering, scaling or redness of the skin in the breast area
- A painless lump or thickening in the breast
Men are more likely than women to wait to report their symptoms, giving the cancer more time to spread and leaving them with less hope that they will recover with treatment.
We commend our son. His way of coming to grips with his situation and o warn other men was to be interviewed for an article on the subject by Yale New Haven Hospital’s Centerpoint magazine after he’d recovered. Ours is to warn you so you will be more aware for yourself, or perhaps someone else.
Now it’s your turn: Has male breast cancer touched your life, or the life of someone you know?