This is the last week of October, and as most of you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. This is represented by the color pink. Pink ribbons are everywhere in Sheridan, and pink seems an appropriate color for breast cancer awareness. It is, after all, a color that our society associates with the female gender. However, what many people forget is that breast cancer affects men, too.
According to U.S. Breast Cancer statistics, approximately 2,240 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2013. That does not sound like much, and in fact, it is less than the 232,340 new cases diagnosed in women. However, it is still a possibility.
Recently, the husband of a colleague and friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a breast cancer survivor, I can relate to the horror he feels and the uncertainty that comes with treatment. Luckily, they caught it early and his prognosis is good. But that doesn’t detract from the pain he has already endured and what is to come. Within days, he has undergone a mammogram and a double mastectomy. His future holds chemo and radiation and months of uncertainty.
Like my family, his family has a history of breast cancer. Like my family, breast cancer invaded not just the females in his family, but a male, too. Like me, he found the lump on his own by doing breast self-examinations. Like me, this may have saved his life.
In November 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published a report recommending “against teaching breast self-examination (BSE).” In fact, they argue that “there is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit” and they recommend that physicians “discourage the use of this service.”
I found my lump in February, 2010: 5 months after a mammogram. My next mammogram was scheduled for September, 2010. I was diagnosed with Stage III Cancer in June 2010–it had spread to the lymph nodes already. If I had followed the advice of this Task Force, how far would the cancer have metastasized before it was found via mammogram?
My uncle had breast cancer, and he was not lucky. It metastasized and eventually killed him. He did not practice self-examination. Would that have saved him? I don’t know. If my friend had not done self examination, how long would it have been before a diagnosis? Granted a man’s risk is 1 in 1,000 in his lifetime. Those are low odds, but what if you were that 1? Wouldn’t you want to catch it early?
Everyone–not just women, but men, too–need to know how to recognize their risks of breast cancer and they need to know how to practice breast self-examination. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, do self-examinations. Have a mammogram. Know your body. Recognize changes, and demand care if you’re getting the run-around. You are responsible for your health, and sometimes that means going against expert advice.
For more on breast self-examination, visit the National Breast Cancer Organization Website.