Better Breast Cancer Awareness for Men

Posted on May 6, 2011


By Stacy Dillon.

In the “Allegory of the Cave,” Plato writes of  prisoners in a cave who can only see images on a wall, and concludes, “All in all, then, what people in this situation would take for truth would be nothing more than the shadows of the manufactured objects”(1). In other words, Plato is saying what these prisoners think is real are just manufactured objects and they are in the dark about their situation and they have very limited views on what is actually going on around them. I know for a fact that being in the dark and not knowing the truth is a situation that a lot of people find themselves in when it comes to breast cancer. This is especially true for men. When most of us, me included, think of breast cancer, we tend to think of someone’s mom, sister, daughter, or wife. No one ever thinks of men. There are many myths about breast cancer, but the myth that men do not get breast cancer poses particularly serious consequences. Therefore we need to find ways to undo it.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that men do not have enlarged breasts like women, many men and women believe that men cannot get breast cancer. However, the truth is that men actually do get breast cancer. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s web site on Breast Cancer Myths it is estimated that approximately 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will lose their lives to this disease each year. The site also advises that men should give themselves regular breast self-exams and report any changes to their physicians. This rate is much lower than that for women. Each year it is estimated that one in seven women will get breast cancer. Nonetheless, I feel men are just as much victims as women, because they do not know what is happening to them, and often catch it too late.

Because men are not privileged to the same information provided to most women when a man finds out he has breast cancer, chances are it will be too late. As a woman when you visit your General Practitioner or OBGYN one of the many things you are told is how to give yourself a monthly examination. You are told what to feel for and look for, in this case, it could be anything from a lump, discoloration of the breast, a discharge that you know is not common, or discomfort that you did not have before. In addition, women that are over forty years old are encouraged to have a mammogram done once a year, which helps catch the cancer before it worsens. Women are also more likely to be covered by their health insurance for a yearly mammogram than men. Finally, there are many support groups for women; one well known group that comes to mind is the Susan G. Komen Foundation which supports women by having an annual walk which raises money in order to help find a cure.  These are just some of the many things that women can benefit from. These services that are provided to women help to give them a greater chance of detecting the cancer much sooner than later. Breast Cancer that is found in its early stage gives women a 98% chance of survival. Without these services, men have a greater chance of finding the cancer in the late stages.  This means that their chances of finding the cancer early are slim and they may not have any treatment options left when they do find it.

How can we undo the myth about men not getting breast cancer? For one thing, we should stop creating the illusions that it is a woman’s disease. When you see the commercials for breast cancer it’s all about the women and their survival. You never hear anything about a man who has beaten this cancer. Please do not get me wrong, I am happy and in full support of all these strong women who have won the battle against this deadly cancer and the others who continue to fight it every day with the support of their friends and families. This is why I honestly believe that our society can do a lot more for men in terms of awareness. For example, men should be told what to look for when they visit the doctor, the same way women are told when they visit their doctor, especially if that man has a relative who has this kind of cancer. We should also provide regular testing for men so that all men who get this cancer have a better fighting chance for winning the battle against breast cancer.

A big part of the problem is that men themselves are reluctant to admit that they can get breast cancer. Like most people, a lot of men perceive breast cancer as a woman’s disease. For this reason, they are more reluctant to do breast exams and fail to talk about issues such as pain or lumps in their breast to their doctors, partners and friends. In order for men to feel comfortable seeking treatment and testing, we need to create a male connection to breast cancer by featuring men that were affected with this disease in commercials and billboards.  Showing examples of men who has won the battle against breast cancer, make it known to the families and friends that have breast cancer so they can pass the information on to their male relatives  will go a long way in spreading the message and making other men feel more comfortable dealing with this illness. For example, when Magic Johnson came out and said he was HIV positive it helped to create a lot more awareness about AIDS. For a long time most people thought that HIV was only a homosexual’s disease. Johnson, who is heterosexual, proved to the world that not only gay men were affected by AIDS. This awareness made a lot of people seek help who may not have otherwise. Similarly I feel if something like this can be done to make men feel more comfortable coming out about breast cancer a lot more men will get tested and this awareness will help them to be more forthcoming and will also save a lot of lives in the future.

In closing, we must tell others that breast cancer not only kills women but a significant percentage of men as well. The consequences of not knowing can be deadly and the little things everyone can do to help spread the word and not just on women only. After all, this is our sons, brothers, husband, and fathers we are talking about. Awareness and education I feel are the key to having success in anything in life. As a society, so many of us are in the dark when it comes to men and breast cancer. The pink ribbons and the walk for breast cancer each year for women are promotional tools though well intended, hold us back from our potential to spreading awareness about the fact that breast cancer afflicts men too.

Works Cited

Breast Cancer Myths. Web. n.p. 9 April. 2011

Plato, The Republic. Ed. G.R.F.  Ferrari. Trans. Tom Griffith. New York:     Cambridge UP, 2000. 220-26.