Male Breast Cancer: the Stigma

October 31, 2014

The other day, I came across some articles with first hand accounts as to what it’s like to have breast cancer as a man. As expected, most men with breast cancer seem to have a similar experiences of shock, subsequent embarrassment, battling the “stigma” of having a predominately women’s disease. What I learned, however, was that men are at a higher risk of dying from breast cancer because it is usually detected at a later stage than in women. Obviously, the further advanced the cancer–like all cancers– the lower the survival rate. However, there is no difference between male and female breast cancer in terms of treatment and prognosis. Not only are men typically diagnosed too late, but they also suffer from the stigma of being a man with a disease “for women.”

In a recent Health article, Christopher Gallo, breast cancer survivor, is quoted saying “‘[Breast Cancer Awareness Month] is very geared toward women, which is understandable, but it kind of excludes men from it,’ he says. ‘Make October about breast cancer in general, not just women’s breast cancer.'” 

Gallo makes a valid point. Male breast cancer is usually ignored and the “pink” theme of breast cancer makes them feel excluded because pink is typically associated with girls.

Although the “pink” and “girl power” theme can feel ostracizing for men, the reason fundraisers and campaigns focus on women is because it is typically a women’s disease. According to Fox Health News, “About 1 percent of all breast cancers are diagnosed in men. An estimated 2,360 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. this year, and 430 men are predicted to die from it.” According to, about 232, 760 women will be diagnosed this year. 40,000 women in the U.S. are expected to die from breast cancer this year. About 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer in men is about 1 in 1,000.

In no way do I mean to diminish or devalue men’s breast cancer by comparing the numbers like this. Hopefully this comparison demonstrates how much greater the number of women are affected. These numbers are the reason breast cancer has been dubbed as a “woman’s disease.”

One of the major differences between male and female breast cancer is that women are encouraged to systematically check their breasts. Because the disease is so prevalent in women, most women self-examine their breasts once a month and get a yearly mammogram. Men, on the other hand will only be examined when there is a noticeably large bump already growing and possibly spreading.  Men diagnosed with breast cancer are typically in their 60’s or 70’s. Therefore, although male and female breast cancer would have the same survival rate if detected at the same stage, because men are typically detected too late, breast cancer tends to have spread and be harder to cure. Most male health professionals wouldn’t consider reminding men to self-examine their breast tissue like gynecologists recommend women do every month.

Breast cancer survivor Harvey Singer was featured in the Fox Health News article titled “Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Don’t forget the men.” Singer was quoted saying, “‘Guys are macho and don’t want to tell their friends that they have breast cancer because the guys are going to start making jokes,'” 

It’s horrible that not only are male breast cancer patients battling a serious disease, but on top of this they feel humiliation. It’s important to include the small percentage of at-risk men in conversations about breast cancer so that people are aware that: yes, this can happen to men, and secondly, men should examine their breast tissue and consider visiting the doctor when they feel a lump.

UBCF fully supports male breast cancer patients, survivors and their families; and, as always, men qualify for all of the programs we offer.



MSN Article :

Fox Health Article:





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