Earlier this year, when American singer-songwriter Beyonce Knowles’ father Mathew Knowles noticed blood on his shirt and bed sheets, he scheduled himself a mammogram, the results for which were conclusive: stage 1A breast cancer. “Imagine a piece of white paper and you took a red pen and just put a dot. That’s what it looked like in my T-shirt,” Mathew Knowles was quoted by the New York Times. He’d squeeze a nipple and a bit of bloody discharge would ooze out.
Knowles, 67, then underwent a mastectomy and had three lymph nodes removed, urging his daughters to get checked, too. He purportedly plans to remove the other breast as well, come January, so as to reduce the risk.
Knowles’ fight has once again put the spotlight on male breast cancer, dialogue around which, only ever happens in the periphery. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we look at the rare-but-real occurrence of the disease.
Signs and symptoms
Signs include a lump or thickening of the breast or the underarm area; a change in the size or shape of the breast; fluid from nipple, especially if its bloody; an inverted nipple; scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or the areola.
“Though it is rare and accounts for only one per cent of all breast cancer cases, it is important for men to be aware and educated about the symptoms of the disease, so as ensure timely diagnosis and treatment,” Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology and HOD-Colorectal Surgery, Fortis Hospital Mulund, Dr Anil Heroor, says.
Typically, breast cancer in men is more aggressive, and those afflicted usually have a family history, he says.
These are similar to those conducted for women. “Diagnosis for men is done through mammograms and biopsies of the breast tissue. The treatment varies from case to case, and could include surgery, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Most commonly, it involves a mastectomy, which is the removal of the entire breast tissue. Radiation is also administered in certain cases,” says Dr Heroor.
Coping with cancer
Given its rarity, male breast cancer often brings with it a sense of shame and confusion. “Moral and emotional support from family and friends helps in a big way. We recommend patients take up creative activities and get plenty of exercise to keep their spirits up through the therapy,” he says.