Most men don’t think they can get breast cancer because is most common in women, but growing evidence shows that men are also at risk of developing this type of cancer.
Male breast cancer is rare, accounting for only about 1 percent of cases each year. But men tend to have larger tumors and more serious cases than women even though male cancer is more easily detected.
About 1% of South Africans diagnosed with breast cancer are men.
A 62-year old Johan Basson of Johannesburg was shocked when he heard that he had breast cancer.
He said, “I thought this just cannot be… I was shocked because I never knew that men could have it. Since when do men get breast cancer? That is the first thing I asked the surgeon. And he said ‘it is not common because we don’t see it often’. But he assured me that I was not the first and will certainly not be the last.”
Basson says it was purely by accident when he felt a lump just behind his right nipple in May 2009. He was on holiday with his family at the time.
“I had just gotten out of the pool and I was sitting on the verandah and you know how you sometimes lean back and stretch. I rubbed my hands over my chest, and as I did that, I felt – behind my right nipple – this lump. I told my wife to feel it. It was quite strange. I had never noticed it before and it was quite a significant lump – probably about 20 to 25mm in diameter – reasonably large”, he says.
“Your mind starts playing tricks with you because, firstly, you are a man it is women who suffer these things. Why have I got it? What could it mean? Will I die? What about my marriage? Your mind races on and it is quite nerve-wrecking”, he added.
After evaluation by a specialist surgeon, it was recommended that he undergoes various tests which included an ultrasound and mammogram. Basson was given a waiting period of about a week before he could receive his test results.
“When I walked into his consulting room I knew that it was bad news. I could see his body language. He was uncomfortable. He said to me: ‘We have found a ductal carcinoma. It is malignant and you’re going to have to get it removed’. As those words were spoken, my wife was emotionally upset. It was not what I was hoping to hear, but I managed to remain calm”, says Basson.
He had to undergo surgery to remove the lump, followed by extensive chemo-therapy and radiation. The procedures had bad side-effects.
“I had nausea, oral thrush your mouth goes numb you lose all taste – whatever you eat tastes vile tiredness and skeletal pain, all your bones are sore. I had no hair left. I lost all my body hairs on my chest, legs and arms. I had nothing! I was literally as smooth as a baby. And, I thought, ‘hey, to have a bald head is fashionable. So, why not look like one of the boys for a change?'”.
But soon after his surgery, he started feeling positive.
“Probably, after the lump was removed. Whilst this is inside your body, it’s alien and you do not want it there. Once it was out, I felt now I can focus on my recovery and get my life back again. You have two choices – either you listen to the doctors or walk away. I chose to work with the doctors to mitigate chances of the cancer growing”, he says.
Basson says support by his family helped him survive his ordeal. He now tries his best to live a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise. He is currently on medication for the next five years.
Men should be aware of the symptoms of male breast cancer. If you have any symptoms of male breast cancer, it is important that you see a qualified medical professional immediately for a diagnosis. Symptoms of male breast cancer may include inversion of the nipple, bleeding from the nipple, a lump in the breast, and more.