Mathew Knowles, father of singers Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Solange Knowles, revealed his breast cancer diagnosis in a new interview and first-person account with Good Morning America Wednesday—and is using his platform to urge other men to get tested for the disease.
Knowles, a 67-year-old music executive, explained that the first symptom he experienced was seeing spots of blood on his white T-shirts. "The first day I was like 'Oh, OK, no big deal ... maybe it’s something that just got on my T-shirt,'" he said. "[The] second day I looked and the same thing and I was like, 'Eh ... interesting.'" It wasn't until the third day, when his wife mentioned she also noticed the drops of blood, that he "immediately" went to his doctor.
Even then, breast cancer wasn't at the top of his mind. "My mind went a lot of places," he said. "My mind went to what medication I was on, because different medications might have caused some sort of discharge." Then, Knowles thought about his risk factors for breast cancer—his mother's sister, along with her two daughters died of breast cancer—and asked his doctor about a mammogram.
After a smear test of the blood Knowles was finding was inconclusive, a mammogram found his breast cancer, and an ultrasound and needle biopsy confirmed the diagnosis. That was in July 2019, he said, and he got surgery immediately—a single or unilateral mastectomy. It was at that time Knowles also underwent a BRCA gene test, and he was found to have a mutation in his BRCA2 gene, which increases his risk for breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer or melanoma.
What you need to know about breast cancer in men:
First things first: Breast cancer is much less common in men than it is women—it's 100 times less common in white men than it is in white women, and it's 70 times less common in black men than it is black women, according to the American Cancer Society. Black men and women also tend to have a worse prognosis after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Still, per the ACS, about 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men will be diagnosed in 2019, and about 500 men will die from the disease.
While Knowles didn't reveal his exact breast cancer diagnosis, the ACS says there are two main types of breast cancer in men: ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive ductal carcinoma. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) occurs when cells inside the milk ducts of the breast have changed to look like cancer cells but have not spread. Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), is when those cancerous cells break outside of the milk ducts and spread into the fatty tissue of the breast. IDC makes up about eight out of 10 male breast cancer cases.
According to the ACS, symptoms of breast cancer in men include Knowles's symptoms of discharge from the nipple, along with an often painless lump or swelling, skin dimpling or puckering, nipple retraction, or redness or scaling on the nipple or breast skin.
While the cause of breast cancer in men is currently unknown, per the ACS, there are several risk factors that increase a man's chance of developing breast cancer, including age (men are, on average, 72 years old when diagnosed with breast cancer), having a family history of breast cancer, and having a gene mutation associated with the disease—like Knowles's BRCA2 mutation. Alcohol, radiation exposure, and liver disease are other risk factors for breast cancer in men.
As for treatment options, breast cancers in men can be treated locally, through surgery to remove tumors, or systemically, through medications; sometimes a combination of treatments is used, per the ACS.
While Knowles already had a mastectomy on the affected breast, he said he will have another mastectomy in January to "do anything I can to reduce the risk" of recurrence. (Without the additional surgery, Knowles's chance of recurrence is 5%; the surgery lowers his risk to 2%.) Knowles also shared that his children—both Beyoncé and Solange—have a 50% of inheriting the BRCA2 gene mutation.
Overall, Knowles said he hopes sharing his story will open up the conversation for men to understand their breast cancer risk and for everyone to understand that early detection is essential for a successful outcome.
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