‘Breast cancer can hit anyone: I’m a 69-year-old man and I had it’

Jun 19, 2020
In Australia, around 130 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Source: Getty.

Although breast cancer is usually seen as a woman’s disease, men can get it, too. In Australia, around 130 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. But because there is less awareness among men and because of the misconception that only women are affected by breast cancer, men carry a higher mortality than women do.

‘I’m a 69-year-old man and I had breast cancer’

Like most men, Peter Bennett, 69, didn’t give much thought to the possibility of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Peter had been experiencing a hot, tingly feeling in his right breast for two weeks — which he and his GP put down to an infection — before a pea-sized lump appeared on the side of his nipple. He went and saw his family GP who sent him for an immediate biopsy.

“I didn’t know anything about male breast cancer,” Peter told Starts at 60. “And [two days] later I get a call saying, ‘Peter, that’s breast cancer’.”

Peter had a mastectomy, followed by six months of chemotherapy. After being diagnosed in September 2012, Peter didn’t meet another man with breast cancer until five years later. He’s now been cancer free for some time and co-runs The Men’s Breast Cancer Forum to raise awareness about male breast cancer and is a community ambassador for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

“There’s a stigma that this is a female disease … but it’s not,” he said. “[Breast cancer is] not discriminatory, it’s not gender biased or anything like that.”

Despite this, many people fail to remember that men can suffer from breast cancer too. Peter revealed when he went for a routine mammogram once, the women working at the clinic thought he was there for his wife. While one of his friends with breast cancer was given a leaflet of information, but the wording only referred to female patients.

Breast cancer in men

Breast cancer in men is rare, with less than one per cent of all breast cancers occuring in men, but that’s no reason to ignore the warning signs. According to Cancer Council Australia, symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those for women and include:

  • A breast lump
  • Thickening of the breast tissue
  • Dimpling of the skin of the breast
  • A change in shape of the breast or nipple
  • A discharge from the nipple
  • A painful area
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit area.

Some factors that can increase your risk of breast cancer in men include ageing, family history of breast cancer and some other cancers, high levels of oestrogen, Klinefelter syndrome (a rare genetic condition in which a male is born with an extra copy of the X chromosome), and lifestyle factors such as drinking alcohol, smoking, being overweight and lack of physical activity.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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