THE pink ribbon is often associated with women’s fight against cancer.
However, the third week of October is dedicated to commemorating breast cancer in men and is therefore dubbed the men’s breast cancer week.
While breast cancer is rare among men, it does occur and is even deadlier with less chances of survival as compared to breast cancer in women.
Like in women, early detection is key and it saves lives.
Men should pay attention to their bodies and visit the doctor often.
According to the Centre for Disease Control, male breast cancer is rare. For every 100 men, one man will be diagnosed with it. Men may not get diagnosed for breast cancer at an early stage if they ignore its symptoms due to fear of stigma.
Approximately one to two percent of all breast cancer patients are men yet when it comes to diagnosis, they may face a unique set of challenges. Men tend to ignore the symptoms of breast cancer due to fear of stigma and may be diagnosed at an advanced stage and have poorer outcome as compared to women.
Breast cancer starts in the milk ducts and the lobules, which are the structures containing the milk-producing glands. Male and female breast tissue have few ducts under the nipple and areola until puberty. During puberty, females see increased levels of various hormones like oestrogen causing ducts to grow and lobules to form. While in males, owing to low levels of these hormones, ducts, lobules are few and tend to consist of fat tissue.
In women on the other hand, early start of periods before the age of 12 and late menopause, after age of 55, giving birth for the first time at an older age, or never giving birth increases the risk of breast cancer.
Age and genetics are common factors seen in both males and females when it comes to breast cancer. Other common factors which can be taken care at an individual level are smoking, previous radiation therapy, alcohol and lack of exercise.
According to the Centre for Disease Control, females and males having breast cancer will spot symptoms such as bumps and lumps, swelling in one or both the breasts, feeling tenderness, soreness, discharge from the breast, itchy skin around nipples, inverted nipple, thickened skin on the breast and pain. In males as the breast is small in size is recognised at a small size but spreads fast to neighbouring structure and organs.
A mammogram and a biopsy remain the diagnosis tools for both men and women to determine if the lump is cancerous.
Men and women should understand that getting diagnosed with cancer is not a death sentence.
Early detection provides the best chances for survival and a second lease of life.
After the type, location, and stage of the cancer are confirmed, a doctor will decide on a proper line of treatment for you. You will be asked to opt for a mastectomy, lumpectomy that falls under surgery.
Apart from that, other options such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy can also be advised to you.
As with other non-communicable diseases, lifestyle modifications like exercising every day, avoiding weight gain and eat balanced diet of leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains are necessary to help prevent cancer. One should also do self-breast examination from the age of 18. For women, its breast to do a self-examination after every menstrual cycle.
We should all talk about breast cancer as much as possible, at work, at church gatherings, at socials and everywhere else where people meet. The victory is in our hands and in empowering and encouraging each other to get screened for early detection. The same way we test for HIV or blood sugar must be the same way we check for breast cancer as we may feel healthy for a very long time yet cancer may be eating away our healthy tissues.
Going through cancer treatment can be physically, mentally and financially draining.
While cancer prevalence is higher in women, men are not immune to it either and joint efforts in creating awareness and joining in the fight would lead to better and lifesaving results for all.
The more awareness there is about a disease or ailment, the more empowered people are and the more they are able to handle it.
The most common kinds of breast cancer in men are similar to those of women. In invasive ductal carcinoma, the cancer cells begin in the ducts and then grow outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.
In invasive lobular carcinoma, the cancer cells begin in the lobules and then spread from the lobules to the breast tissues that are close by. These invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a breast disease that may lead to invasive breast cancer. The cancer cells are only in the lining of the ducts, and have not spread to other tissues in the breast.
As in women, treatment for breast cancer in men depends on how big the tumour is and how far it has spread. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.
Cancer is not a curse, it is not a death sentence and there are various treatment options available. Early detection is key as it saves lives. As with other non-communicable disease, a healthy, active lifestyle goes a long way in keeping breast cancer, and other NCDs at bay.
Men must understand that breast cancer is not just a women’s issue but the pink ribbon is for them too. — @andile_tshuma