#MenHaveBreastsToo: Fighting the stigma associated with male breast cancer

·4 min read
Bret Miller started the Male Breast Cancer Coalition in 2013 to raise awareness of breast cancer in men and address the stigma. (Picture: Bret Miller)
Bret Miller and Cheri Ambrose started the Male Breast Cancer Coalition in 2013 to raise awareness of breast cancer in men and address the stigma. (Picture: Josh Santiago)

Every October, people across the globe show their support for those affected by breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The disease mainly affects women, with around 55,000 cases in the UK every year.

But, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. Around one in every hundred breast cancer cases in the UK are in males.

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While breast cancer in men is relatively rare, there are certain risk factors which mean some men may be more likely to develop it.

Karis Betts, Cancer Research UK’s Health Information Manager, said: "Certain factors such as having a close female relative with breast cancer (a mother or sister) increases the chance as men, like women, can inherit the faulty genes.

"High oestrogen levels can also increase the risk. Obviously, women have more oestrogen than men but relatively high levels can occur in men who are clinically obese or who have inherited certain genetic conditions.

"Another risk factor is getting older as most cases are diagnosed in men aged between 60 and 70."

Watch: How should we talk about Pink October and the fight against breast cancer?

Betts explained that the low number of cases compared to women makes it difficult to tell men what to look out for.

She added "Men obviously have less breast tissue than women but it's really important, the same as with any changes to the rest of your body, that if you notice any changes to your chest or nipple which aren't normal for you, you need to tell your doctor about it.

"It's probably not anything serious but if it is, the earlier you get it diagnosed the more treatment options there are available."

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With the number of cases in men so low in comparison to women, a lot of stigma is associated with breast cancer in men.

In the US there are approximately 2,650 new cases every year.

Bret Miller is 35 and lives in Kansas, US with his wife Tasha and their daughter Riley Sue.

In 2010, he was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, aged 24.

"This is not a woman's disease, a man's disease, it is a people's disease and it truly helps all men knowing there is someone out there that has gone through the same thing." - Bret Miller, co-founder of Male Breast Cancer Coalition. (Picture: Josh Santiago)

Despite first discovering a lump in his breast tissue when he was 17, it took seven years for Bret to get a diagnosis after being told by doctors that the lump was probably nothing serious.

His experience of having his symptoms dismissed encouraged him to co-found the Male Breast Cancer Coalition with friend Cheri Ambrose in 2013, an organisation for spreading awareness of the condition.

He told Yahoo Life UK: "I co-founded the coalition because I didn't want another man to feel alone when they hear those words "you have breast cancer".

"This is not a woman's disease, a man's disease, it is a people's disease and it truly helps all men knowing there is some one out there that is or has gone through the same thing.

"Being able to connect with someone and just talk, knowing that they understand the difficulty of being one of the few in the sea of pink, makes a huge difference."

Shortly afterwards, the Male Breast Cancer Coalition started a campaign called Men Have Breasts Too.

It consists of a series of short documentaries with the aim of fighting the stigma associated with men's breast cancer by featuring men who are living with the condition, highlighting the latest news and information from medical experts and sharing stories from family members of survivors and men who have passed away from the disease.

The series is helping men around the world come to terms with their diagnosis. Bret added: "At first we were just a small organisation that was in a few states, slowly getting our name out there. Now, we are a global organisation that has men reaching out to us from around the world because they have nowhere else to turn.

"I think all verbiage in treatments, clinical studies, research, and insurance needs to be changed to include men or simply say 'a person diagnosed with breast cancer'. Doing that and actually having men in breast cancer ads would have such a huge impact."

You can find out more about the Male Breast Cancer Coalition here.

You can access information about breast cancer in men from Cancer Research UK here.

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