National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Needs a Bit More “Awareness”

Okay, it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For the most part, we are all quite aware … with one lone exception. In an effort to increase “awareness” this annual parade of pink ribbons generates a host of news stories about breast cancer, early detection etc. More often than not, those stories include the phrase “women with breast cancer.”

imagesNinety-nine percent of the time that is an accurate statement. There were approximately 180,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. in 2011. That year, there were 1800 MEN diagnosed as well.

I know.

I was one of them.

Obviously, men are far less likely to get breast cancer than women. It’s logical to refer to it as a “women’s disease,” but it isn’t. We are mammals. We all have “breast” tissue, including ducts, nipples etc. In men it’s generally useless tissue – tits on a boar, if you will – but it can be subject to the same cancers suffered by women, albeit far less frequently.

According to a study presented earlier this year at the American Society of Breast Surgeons conference, when men are diagnosed with breast cancer, it is often deadlier. That’s largely because men (and even their health care providers) tend to ignore those early symptoms that trigger alarm bells when it comes to female patients.

Because of that lack of “awareness,” men tend to be diagnosed later than women (even though our tumors are actually detectable at an earlier stage) and as a result have larger tumors, are more likely to have had the cancer spread and live, on average, two fewer years than women who are diagnosed.

I was lucky. I found an aggressive 2.3cm, grade 3 tumor when it was just at Stage 2b. A failed lumpectomy, a bilateral mastectomy and five months of chemo later, I’m as good as new (albeit sans nipples).

We caught that sucker in time. Other men, like my late uncle Philip, aren’t as lucky. Many ignore indicators, thinking that a bump is merely a cyst. Worse still is when medical professionals tell them it’s nothing to worry about.

I’m not asking you to donate money. I am not begging you to participate in a walk or a 5k. You don’t have to wear a ribbon, a pin or a wristband.

Instead, let’s honor National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by being “aware.” Be aware that now and then, in those rare cases, this also happens to men.

Don’t panic if you find a lump, but please, please, please don’t ignore it thinking that breast cancer is only something that affects women.

Just be aware.