The pink ribbon symbolizing breast cancer appears everywhere. And that is because October is breast cancer awareness month. I applaud this campaign, and I truly believe that it has saved and is saving lives. However, we are over-looking a forgotten segment of the population in this disease: men. Men get breast cancer too.
While breast cancer in men is just a tiny fraction of patients, we need to remind people that they are at risk as well. The male patients I treated with breast cancer did not believe that they could possibly be afflicted with this disease; they thought it was only a “women’s disease”. In fact, when I ordered mammograms on men in the past, some thought I was joking. Breast cancer awareness is a great thing to advocate for, but we need to not forget men here.
Men with breast cancer tend to do much worse than women. They tend to die earlier and fail treatment at a higher rate. One of the reasons is because this disease has not been studied much in men as it has in women. Men receive the same treatment as women because that is all that is available at the present time. More clinical trials are needed to develop specific treatments for men with breast cancer.
“Men receive the same treatment as women because that is all that is available at the present time. More clinical trials are needed to develop specific treatments for men with breast cancer.”
Emotionally, men also have a much more difficult time. They are often stigmatized as having a “women’s disease”. Many are embarrassed to tell others their diagnosis. In fact, many of them are forced to go for testing and treatment at centers that are “women’s” health centers. Here, they may be the only male patient in the facility. Many are reluctant to go to these centers, which are actually the best at treating breast cancer. They feel alone and odd.
In my career, I have treated only a handful of men with breast cancer. Thankfully, it is not so common. I remember one who died, and his wife telling me later that he hid his diagnosis from many people. No one should be ashamed of a disease that they may have, let alone a cancer. They did not choose this but rather the cancer chose them.
Last week, I evaluated a young man who noticed a lump in his breast. I ordered a mammogram and ultrasound, which is the diagnostic test of choice. And as usually happens, the radiology facility called back to make sure I knew I was ordering a mammogram on a man. If workers in the healthcare system don’t recognize the fact that men are victims here, how can we expect anyone else to? We need to better educate healthcare workers and raise awareness.
October is breast cancer awareness month so let’s spread the awareness. We need to remind our patients to get their screening mammograms. And we need to let everyone know that breast cancer is not just a “women’s disease.” It affects men as well, and we should step up and treat those afflicted with more understanding and less judgment.
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Dr. Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP, is a family physician in South River, New Jersey. She holds board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and is affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital. Dr. Girgis earned her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency at Sacred Heart Hospital, through Temple University and she was recognized as intern of the year. Over the course of her practice, Dr. Girgis has continued to earn awards and recognition from her peers and a variety of industry bodies, including: Patients’ Choice Award, 2011-2012, Compassionate Doctor Recognition, 2011-2012. Dr. Girgis’ primary goal as a physician remains ensuring that each of her patients receives the highest available standard of medical care.