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Male Breast Cancer and the Stigma Around It

Male breast cancer is unlike other cancers in that it carries a stigma for many who are diagnosed with it. A big reason for this is that breast cancer is seen as a female disease and this can lead to the feeling of shame for men who have it. It is also true that there is a lot less support for men with breast cancer than there is for women, leading to many men feeling isolated. This in turn is leading to men shying away from getting the treatment or support they need. One reason that many men may be afraid to admit that they have breast cancer is the age that most diagnoses are made. Medical News Today reports that most male breast cancer cases are in men 65-years old and over. The older generations are more likely to have traditional masculine view of seeing a doctor, especially for a disease like breast cancer which is often seen as a female condition. The Conversation explains how men who followed beliefs about how they should be “brave and self-reliant in order to be respected” were less likely to seek preventative care. In the US this is an increasing problem, especially as Maryville University states that by 2025 the nation is expected to be short of at least 100,000 family medicine doctors. This means that more men will potentially slip through the cracks, due to not being checked, when they could have been treated early. And with many men shying away from getting themselves checked for breast cancer due to the stigma, this lowers their survival chances.

One way to dispel the stigma around male breast cancer is to look at the numbers. While it is a rare disease there are around 2,500 new cases every year, which means that every day there are approximately seven new cases and one death. This is probably a higher number of breast cancer cases than most men think. Those who have it often feel isolated when in fact they are not alone. The more men that find a support group, the more likely they will come to accept the disease, and not see it as an issue of masculinity, but an issue of health. There is also the reason why men get breast cancer that can lead to the feeling of shame, and it has to do with genetics. Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, director of the breast medical oncology division at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center notes that “the most common reason for men to develop breast cancer is not aging, and it’s not because they’re men. It’s carrying the genetic mutation.” 90% of breast cancers in men are reliant on estrogen, which is commonly associated as being a female hormone. This is where some of the stigma comes from, because men don’t want to admit they are taking estrogen pills as part of hormone therapy to treat the cancer. The good news is that there is more information on male breast cancer than ever before. This is helping men become more aware and increasing the chances of the disease being treated early. It is also very important that men are made aware of the stories of other men, and women, who have, or have survived, breast cancer. The more that breast cancer survivors like Leonard Robertson and our own co-founders Vicki Singer Wolf and Harvey I. Singer share their personal stories, the higher the chance that someone will be able to recognize their own symptoms and seek treatment earlier. The knowledge that there are other people out there who are going through the exact same thing could increase the chances of a man seeking help. Especially if it gives him the confidence he needs to not be trapped by the stigma surrounding the disease. Will the stigma of male breast cancer ever go away? If we keep spreading the word and supporting those who have it, then the answer is yes. Stigma is a breast cancer battle that we can win.

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By: Pippa Maisie

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