What men need to know about breast cancer in Delaware
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Men don’t need a family history of breast cancer to be prone to the disease, which claims the lives of more than 500 men in the United States each year.
For Michael Smith, a day of fishing in Ocean City, Maryland led to a life-changing moment. As he helped his wife clean their fishing gear, the button of his shirt brushed against his right nipple and he felt a slight pain. Something was wrong, so Smith, a retired flight engineer who had served at Air Force Base Dover, decided to go to the Veterans Medical Center to get it checked out. What the doctor told him shook him deeply.
“The doctor at the VA hospital diagnosed me with stage 2 breast cancer and told me we needed to have surgery immediately,” Smith recalls. “I thought I had just had a cyst that needed to be removed – it was only about the size of [the tip] ballpoint pen and it turned out that I needed a total radical mastectomy. I was numb with disbelief, but I thank the VA doctors for saving my life. They wasted no time in preventing the cancer from progressing to the next stage.
After surgery, Smith took tamoxifen, a hormonal drug that blocks estrogen in breast tissue, for 4.5 years. He has been cancer free for over 18 years. He has no family history of breast cancer and had no other risk factors for the disease.
“It was an eye opener for me, my family and my friends,” says Smith. “Most men still feel like it’s a female disease, but we now know that although it’s rare, it can happen to any of us.”
According to the American Cancer Society, less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. By 2021, about 2,650 men in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with the disease, and about 530 men are expected to die from breast cancer. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is approximately 1 in 833. In the state of Delaware, only 36 cases of male breast cancer were reported between 2012 and 2016, with an average less than 11 cases per year, according to statistics from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program.
Smith turned to the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition for help and is now working with the Wilmington-based nonprofit to help raise awareness of breast health issues through survivor support services. , awareness and education to help facilitate early detection and treatment of breast cancer.
“I share my experience with many different groups and especially teach men to speak up if they feel anything unusual or abnormal,” Smith said. “My goal is to guide others and encourage men to take responsibility for their own health. “
Breast cancer in men can occur when there is an abnormality of breast tissue in men due to hormonal issues, age, side effects of certain drugs, genetic abnormalities, disease chronic liver, diabetes or obesity. Men do not need to have a family history of breast cancer to be prone to the disease.
“A lump in a male breast is never normal and should always be evaluated,” advises Dennis Witmer, MD, a board-certified general surgeon who practices breast surgical oncology at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute of ChristianaCare in Newark. “A cancerous breast mass occurs almost exclusively behind the nipple,” he explains. “Other indicators include nipple pain, bleeding or discharge from the nipple, swelling of the lymph nodes under the armpit, or sores on the nipple or areola. “
“Most men still feel like it’s a female disease, but we now know that although it’s rare, it can happen to any of us.”
Although breast cancer in men can present slightly differently than in women, the process of identification and treatment is somewhat similar.
“If a man notices a lump in the breast area, we recommend that he start with a physical exam by his health care provider. This will most often be followed by imaging, including mammograms of both breasts to make a comparison, an ultrasound to see if the lump is solid or filled with fluid, and a biopsy to distinguish normal tissue from cancerous tissue if necessary. », Explains Renee
L. Quarterman, MD, FACS, Board Certified Breast Surgeon and Independent Practitioner at Delaware Breast Care in Wilmington.
“More commonly, men will have a condition called gynecomastia, or excessive growth of breast tissue due to abnormally high levels of estrogen, which is not cancerous. It usually happens on both breasts and feels more rubbery and tender, ”she explains.
Treatment for breast cancer in men is usually parallel to that for patients with breast cancer.
“While men tend to have larger tumors in later stages and often require mastectomy, we can perform minimally invasive treatments, including anti-estrogen / hormone therapy or lymphatic tissue removal, and most men are candidates for additional treatments such as radiation therapy and drugs. that improve survival, ”adds Dawn J. Leonard, MD, FACS, a scholarship-trained breast surgeon and head of the Breast Surgery Division at ChristianaCare in Newark. “We also recommend that all men diagnosed with breast cancer undergo genetic testing.”
The good news is that the majority of men diagnosed with breast cancer will survive the disease.
“Step by step, the prognosis for men diagnosed with breast cancer is no different than for women,” says Witmer. “The results are generally the same. If caught early, breast cancer is a type of cancer that it is very possible to survive. Our goal is to take the fear out of patients, provide them with the best treatment options, provide lasting healing, and refer them to support groups to help them recover.
Although the risk of developing breast cancer in men remains low, there are a number of preventative steps men can take to reduce their risk even further.
“There are many lifestyle changes that men can make to lower their risk of developing breast cancer,” says Quarterman. “Exercising and staying active, eating a heart-healthy diet, watching your weight, minimizing alcohol consumption, and controlling your blood sugar if you have diabetes are all important steps you can take to stay healthy. , in addition to knowing your family history and performing self-examinations. Leonard emphasizes, “If there is a lump or change in your breast area, always see a doctor. There is no stigma associated with breast cancer in men. If you suspect a problem, do not hesitate to discuss it with your doctor.
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