Alone with male breast cancer

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Because it's so rare in men, when breast cancer does hit a man, he often finds himself all alone – isolated with the stigma of having a "woman's disease."

One man wants to change that.

Rick Williams is a man living in a woman's world. The Stage 3 breast cancer survivor has had a mastectomy and the removal of 16 lymph nodes. He says men don't have the same support system as women.

"I think a lot of it is men are embarrassed, maybe I've got breast cancer. They think of it as a woman's disease," he said.

Williams' family and church rallied around him, and then the 58-year-old spoke at a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

"It takes patients like Rick to get up there to talk about his story to raise awareness, because there could be a man right now sitting and ignoring a lump in his breast that we could save his life because of stories like Rick," Dr. Prasanthi Ganesa said.

As a nine-year breast cancer survivor, Williams still takes tamoxifen, gets exams and blood tests twice a year, and feels no embarrassment talking about his breast cancer, especially to other men.

Men should examine themselves for a painless lump or thickening of breast tissue, any changes to skin that covers the breast, changes to the nipple, including redness and scaling, and discharge from the nipple.

"Men can get breast cancer, too, and men can die from breast cancer, more importantly," Ganesa said.

Because early diagnosis and treatment are key to fight breast cancer in women and men, Williams wants a lot more blue in the sea of pink.

The American Cancer Society estimates 2,500 men will be diagnosed this year alone with breast cancer, and about 500 men will die from it.

RESEARCH SUMMARY
ALONE WITH MALE BREAST CANCER REPORT #2629

BACKGROUND: All people, whether male or female, are born with some breast cells and tissue. Even though males do not develop milk-producing breasts, a man's breast cells and tissue can still develop cancer. Even so, male breast cancer is very rare. Less than one percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men, and only one in a thousand men will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. Men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment. Of the men who develop breast cancer, the vast majority of those cases are Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), which means cells in or around the ducts begin to invade surrounding tissue. Very rarely, a man might be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, or Paget disease, of the nipple. Male breast cancer can exhibit the same symptoms as breast cancer in women, including a lump. Survival rates and treatment for men with breast cancer are very similar to those for women. Early detection of breast cancer increases treatment options and often reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer. (Source: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/male-breast-cancer)

RISK FACTORS AND GENETIC TESTING: Some risk factors for breast cancer include radiation exposure, high levels of the hormone estrogen, and family history of breast cancer. Although treatment outcomes are very similar to women at the same stage of detection, a man diagnosed with breast cancer should also consider seeing a genetics counselor for a consultation. If a man tests positive for a defective gene (most commonly either BRCA1 or BRCA2) that can lead to a future diagnosis of breast cancer and his children have a 50% chance of carrying the gene. In addition, a male child of a man with breast cancer who inherits the defective BRCA2 gene has only approximately a 6% chance of eventually developing breast cancer and just over 1% with BRCA1. A female child of a man with breast cancer who inherits the defective gene has a risk between 40% and 80% of eventually developing breast cancer. Men with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer are also at higher risk of getting prostate cancer at a younger age than usually diagnosed. (Source: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/male-breast-cancer)

TARGETING MALE BREAST CANCER: The future of treating male breast cancer was recently discussed by Breast Cancer Research Foundation investigator, Dr. Ben Park, at the 2018 Male Breast Cancer Coalition Fest in New York. Dr. Park explained that to precisely treat the disease, it is important to know the mutations driving its growth and survival. We are already seeing the success of this approach in female breast cancers with targeted therapies against tumor promoting pathways, such as HER2 and CDK4/6. Similarly, Dr. Park envisions a future where all cancers are matched for the mutations in the tumor, making it less important whether that cancer is in the breast, the lung or colon or whether the patient is male or female. As an example, Dr. Park described the Patient Response to Immunotherapy Using Spliceosome Mutational Markers (PRISMM) trial at John's Hopkins University. In the PRISMM Trial, Dr. Park and his colleagues will analyze the mutations in tumors of patients with advanced cancers and attempt to match the treatment with drugs targeted to the unique mutations in each patient's tumor. These kinds of precision therapy clinical trials are changing how we test new treatments, with the goal of accelerating the right drug to the right patient at the right time. (Source: https://www.bcrf.org/blog/male-breast-cancer-research-advancements-and-challenges)