Raising Awareness About Breast Cancer in Men

By Lauren Wanko

“I didn’t think men get breast cancer,” said Richard Rush.

That is until Brick Township resident was diagnosed with the disease 12 years ago.

“Breast cancer in men is rare. It’s probably comprises less then one percent of all the new breast cancer cases that are diagnosed per year, so consequently, there isn’t much awareness,” said Hackensack Meridian Health‘s Dr. Madhurima Anne.

Rush’s breast lump was discovered during a yearly physical.

“One time the doctor was feeling around my breast he said to me, ‘You know you got a lump in your nipple?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah it’s been there 8 to 10 years,'” Rush said.

The retired plumber never thought it could be breast cancer and he says he didn’t experience any other unusual symptoms over the years.

“Studies have shown that a lot of times they wait much longer then women to present to their doctors. It’s not something that men think they can get — it’s supposed to be a disease of women. There aren’t the screening tests that there are for women, there aren’t the recommendations to get the yearly mammograms for men and so they do tend to present at a later stage,” said Anne.

The New Jersey Department of Health indicates there were 72 male breast cancer cases in 2013 compared to 7,479 female breast cancer cases that same year.

Anne says some risk factors include genetic predisposition, obesity, liver diseases and anything that increases estrogen stimulation in men, like liver failure and certain estrogen containing medications.

“But in general men don’t have so much estrogen and estrogen stimulating states. So for women they’re just at a higher risk because most of the breast cancers do tend to be stimulated by estrogen,” Anne said.

If men find a hard mass in the breast, notice changes in the shape of the breast, nipple bleeding or discharge or skin changes the medical oncologist recommends going for a check-up. The disease is typically diagnosed after a mammogram and biopsy.

Dr. Anne says the treatment plans for men with breast cancer are similar to the options available to women, that includes chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy. As for surgery, men typically require a mastectomy, that’s the removal of the entire breast.

“So the breasts are smaller for men so it would make more sense to try to do a mastectomy because if you just did the lumpectomy and removed the tumor you want to make sure all the margins are negative and that there aren’t any sort of tumor cells left behind,” said Anne.

Rush had a mastectomy. After that he was prescribed a hormonal therapy medication for five years. Now he’s cancer-free. He visits his doctor yearly, gets a mammogram and during Breast Cancer Awareness Month proudly wears pink.