Cancer truth: I am a man and I have breasts

Men and breast cancer

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's the cancer many men don't want to talk about. Chances are when you think about breast cancer, you think about women. But the fact is men can also develop breast cancer. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

Dorland Abernathy of Landis wears a pink cape and a pink bowtie when he visits organizations, all to help raise awareness about breast cancer. Pink is the internationally recognized color for breast cancer awareness. Abernathy knows about cancer because he is a breast cancer survivor. A male breast cancer survivor.

When he first got the diagnosis he says he was stunned. He says he had never thought about developing breast cancer because after all, it's something many men think only happens to women. He says, "I felt like an oddity. Or object of curiosity or something. Had my pastor given me the opportunity to keep it quiet, instead of calling on me in an open service and tell me what's in your heart, I would not have told anybody for a long time, probably. I don't know if it was something I was ashamed of but it was something I was so unfamiliar with I didn't know which way to go or what to do."

The breast cancer rate in men is about 1 in 1,000 compared to 1 in 8 in women. Because of that, and rightly so, there is a much greater emphasis on breast cancer in women. But men still need to be aware too. "You know the only, if I may inject some humor here, the only time you hear men talk about their breasts is when you make fun of a guy for having man boobs. Or moobs! Right?" Park Williams of Komen Charlotte says. "That's the only time you ever hear of a man's breast referred to as a breast. And it's all in good humor, nobody thinks about the fact that it once was a functioning organ at some point in time and some of the issues remain."

It's believed that breast cancer is caused primarily by environmental factors but genetics play a role as well. Christen Csuy is a genetics counselor with Novant Health and works extensively with cancer patients. "So about 15% of men who have breast cancer, carry a BRCA one or two mutation. So, anytime a person has a breast cancer in a male relative or themselves, should consider genetic testing to know if they carry a mutation. If they do carry it, then they're at risk for prostate cancer, for pancreatic cancer," Csuy says. "And then they have the risk to pass it on to their children. So if they test positive, there's a 50/50 chance that their children and their siblings could also carry that mutation."

Meanwhile, Abernathy, who had his right breast removed and is an 18-year survivor, continues his campaign to bring more awareness to men's breast cancer.

He says most men who die of breast cancer do so because they could not admit they were capable of getting the disease. "But whatever could happen to, and they'll think of their mothers or grandmothers, a woman with large breasts, or something and yea, they got breast cancer," he warns. "But uh, whatever can happen to grandma or to your aunt or to your mother or to your sister...uh, can happen to you. It's the same tissue and it can get the same abnormalities and same malfunctions and same diseases. So, be aware of it!"

Most cases of male breast cancer occur in men over 60, but it can happen to a man at any age. What are the signs of breast cancer in men? They're similar to those in women.

  • A lump or swelling, which is often painless
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple retraction
  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
  • Discharge from the nipple

If you have any of those symptoms, it doesn't mean you have cancer, but you should see a doctor as soon as possible to determine what it may be.

For more information on breast cancer, Komen Charlotte is a great resource. Just go to www.komencharlotte.org.

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