Oct 31, 2019 1:00 PM

Michael Sheffield was a healthy 45-year old in 2010 when he noticed some pain in his nipple. Not thinking much of it, he waited a few weeks until a routine skin check with his dermatologist. During the appointment, Mike’s dermatologist found a cyst and did a biopsy.

A week later when results of the biopsy were back, Mike received unexpected news. He had breast cancer. “It just doesn’t feel real to be diagnosed with cancer,” he says. “Then to have breast cancer as a male? It is extra weird.”

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), men are diagnosed with breast cancer at less than 1% the rate of women. For the year 2019, the American Cancer Society equates that percentage to more than 2,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in U.S. men.

“We try to use as much sensitivity dealing with male breast cancer as we do with women,” says Regina Rosenthal, MD, Mike’s breast surgeon at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). “Just like women with breast cancer, men can be overwhelmed and scared and wonder, ‘Am I going to die of this?’” Dr. Rosenthal notes that appropriate education and treatment options help patients—male and female—feel more in control, more positive, and better able to go on with their lives.

As a start to his treatment planning, Mike had genetic testing to determine if a gene mutation could have contributed to his cancer. He found out he does, in fact, have a mutation in the BRCA2 gene. A mutation in this gene raises the risk of breast and ovarian cancers in women and breast and prostate cancers in men. Learn more about BRCA2 gene mutations by reading our factsheet.

Similar to many female patients and because of his BRCA2 gene mutation, Mike had a double mastectomy to remove his breast tissue. His surgery was followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“I was going to do everything I could to have my best chance to survive,” he says.

“At this point, I’d say I’m in remission,” Mike adds. “There’s no sign of metastatic disease. So far it’s just watch and see. With breast cancer, it’s tricky because it can come back years later. The longer I go, the better the odds that the cancer won’t come back.”

This is positive news, as men diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to succumb to their disease in the first five years when compared to women. A 2019 study published in JAMA Oncology attributes this to the fact that breast cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage and is undertreated in men.

“Even within the medical community, breast cancer is often only talked about as if this is a women’s disease. Of course, a large amount of cases occur in women, but what about the men?” Mike asks. “I don’t even like the term ‘male breast cancer,’” he says. “It’s like saying ‘male lung cancer’ in a way.” Instead, Mike suggests using more neutral and inclusive language, such as “people with breast cancer.”

With more awareness and acknowledgement that breast cancer happens in men, Mike believes that doctors and men themselves will be less likely to overlook symptoms or avoid having concerns checked out. As for all people with any cancer, early detection, appropriate education, and the latest treatment options lead to more lives saved.

Learn more about breast cancer in men from the National Cancer Institute.

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