At 41, Brian Place found a lump near his left nipple and dismissed it as a sort of injury from the rough games he had been involved with for most of his life. He thought that the lump was probably a result of a collision with another rugby player. Though his doctor didn’t think much of the lump either, nevertheless, he advised Place to get a mammogram test. When the ultrasound of the breast and a biopsy came out, the diagnosis shocked Place and his colleagues from the Royal Air Force in Britain where he works as a Communications Technician: breast cancer.
Staff at his local breast clinic even assumed that Place was accompanying a female patient during his check up. The confusion is understandable. Only about less than 1% of breast cancers diagnosed occur in men. The rarity of breast cancer in men leaves so much room for research regarding the condition. According to Dr. Larissa Korde, staff clinician at the National Cancer Institute’s clinical genetics branch, “In women, we have studies based on hundreds of thousands of patients.” However, there are no studies of that scale in men. “Though much can be extrapolated from research in women,” said Korde, “ it’s a little bit harder to make recommendations for men based on evidence.”
One of the surest risk factors to consider is family medical history, that is, for both men and women. At the time of Place’s diagnosis, two female relatives of his had died of breast cancer and a third of ovarian cancer. However, several genes may contribute to breast cancer, such as mutations which are known to increase the possibilities of both breast and ovarian cancers. Although most men might never even meet a man with breast cancer, those who have several relatives diagnosed with breast cancer should be wary for signs of their own breast tumors. Based on studies, certain populations with an unusually high proportion of people carrying BRCA2 mutations may have a higher incidence rate of breast cancer in men, such as in Sweden, Hungary, Iceland, and among Ashkenazi Jews.
There are similarities in the survival rates for men and women as they adjust in the stage of the disease at diagnosis. But since men do not undergo a regular screening like women do, they are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage. The lumps may not always be detected by medical scanning equipment.
Medical treatment usually includes surgery, to be followed by some combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. With men, an additional hormone treatment is necessary because almost all men with breast cancer have tumors characterized as hormone-receptor-positive.
After two years of medical treatment and therapy, Place is now doing well. Two years after his diagnosis, Place is well enough to play contact sports. The mastectomy was successful, and Place has decided to discontinue his hormone treatment due to its side effects like hot flashes which he found to be very unpleasant.
Brian Place is now an active participant in online discussions and support group communities for cancer patients. He tries to answer questions regarding male breast-cancer conditions. Place also gives talks to people who contact him through the U.K. nonprofit Breast Cancer Care. Although there are women who are not yet accustomed to men with breast cancer condition, time and awareness can help address the issue.