There are approximately 2,200 men in the United States who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and I am one of them.
Until my diagnosis, I did not know men were susceptible to breast cancer. Because the number of women with breast cancer is far higher than the number of men, there is little mention of male breast cancer in the media.
My male breast cancer diagnosis
My tumor was discovered by accident. I got a CT scan for a cough, but the CT scan indicated a tumor located in my right breast.
With a 99% probability that the tumor was benign, I did not see cause for alarm. In fact, I did not tell my wife for several weeks because I didn't want to cause her unnecessary worry. It was not until I was scheduled for a core biopsy that I told her. In retrospect, I made a bad choice.
The biopsy results were conclusive: I had a small, malignant tumor in my right breast.
My male breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson
The decision about where to seek male breast cancer treatment was easy. I wanted to be treated at a place whose staff had the most knowledge of male breast cancer, which is extremely rare, occurring only in ½ to 1 percent of men. I asked my doctor to contact MD Anderson, and within two days, I was a patient of Gabriel Hortobagyi, M.D.
By the third day, I was undergoing diagnostic testing at Mays Clinic. On April 22, 2013, my right breast was removed by my surgical oncologist, Barry Feig, M.D. I am fortunate that my tumor was small (about a half-inch) and had not escaped its boundaries, and my lymph nodes were clear. During my mastectomy, however, it was necessary to remove three lymph nodes as a result of vascular channel movement.
I did not undergo breast reconstruction mainly as a result of my wife's and my inability to choose either a large B or small C.
A low chance of male breast cancer recurrence
After the mastectomy, tumor tissue was sent for DNA testing under the Oncotype DX test. The results are calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, with lower numbers being best. My wait for the test results was fraught with anxiety. Imagine my relief when my test results number came in at 11. This gives me an 8% chance for male breast cancer recurrence in the next 20 years. My only treatment now is Tamoxifen.
I continue to receive what I call the "best of the bad news." Because BRCA genetic mutations can sometimes increase the risk for male breast cancer, I underwent genetic testing for both BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutations. I tested negative for both. This meant I didn't have to get my left breast removed.
Why I advocate for male breast cancer awareness
I know I am lucky. Many men are diagnosed too late when male breast cancer has metastasized. Consequently, their prognosis is not good.
This is why I want to establish a survivor support team for male breast cancer survivors and be a cheerleader for male breast cancer awareness.
I currently serve on the Patient and Family Advisory Council at MD Anderson and volunteer with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson's one-on-one support program that connects cancer patients and their caregivers with others who have been there. I also am in the final stages of approval to establish a survivor support team for male breast cancer survivors.
When I talk to other male breast cancer patients, I let them tell me their stories and vent. It is not always easy to pull men into a conversation as personal as male breast cancer, but given the right circumstances and opportunities, they will usually open up.
After all, what better source of information and comfort is there than someone who knows what it's like to hear that you have cancer? Fear can be eased with knowledge. Sometimes listening to another survivor is knowledge enough.
To connect with other cancer patients and caregivers through myCancerConnection, please call 800-345-6324 or visit myCancerConnection online.