Speaking up for male breast cancer survivors

Watch the report from Action News.
October 21, 2013 4:38:42 PM PDT
Men may think they can't develop breast cancer, but they can. The American Cancer Society estimates about 22-hundred men get breast cancer a year, and 400 die from it.

As a mathematics teacher at Penn Charter School, Bob Gordon deals with numbers every day.

Earlier this year, he became part of an important statistic - the 1 in a thousand men who develop breast cancer.

It started with a family friend who urged everyone she knew to do self-examination.

"So I checked myself, and discovered a lump, I would say, about the size of a pine nut," he told us.

"It had a hardness different from fatty cysts," he added, referring to benign cysts he'd had elsewhere on his body before.

After tests confirmed the cancer, Bob had surgery to remove the tumor and some lymph nodes.

He acted quickly, but many men don't.

"It's hard for a man to walk into a doctor's office, and you know, tell the doctor they're worried about a lump in the breast," Dr. C-J Fidler, Abington Memorial Hospital.

Because of that, Dr. C.J.Fidler of Abington Memorial Hospital says the cancer is often more advanced when it's found.

There's been very little research on breast cancer in men.

Bob says he had difficulty finding authoritative information and treatment advice.

A genetic test on his tumor cells scored a 5, which is normally a great score, but it's based on being a woman.

Bob considered volunteering for a clinical trial, but didn't qualify, because he is a man.

And he sometimes found the experts didn't agree about dealing with male breast cancer.

At one point, "I had two professionals, both oncologists, thay had diametrically opposed positions," he recalls.

But at this point, the risk factors are believed to be similar to those for women.

*A strong family history of breast cancer - on either the fathers's or mother's side.

*Age - it can happen at any age, but occurs more in the 60s and 70s.

*Obesity --- fat cells can drive up the hormone estrogen, which fuels many breast cancers.

If you fit into these groups -

"You should start, at least, doing a self-breast-exam, you know, around the mid-30s to 40s," says Dr. Fidler.

Bob didn't need any chemotherapy after surgery, but he does take tamoxifen - the same anti-cancer drug many women take.

And he's back at work.

"I returned in September, and there's no restrictions on what I do," he said.

Bob will spread his life-saving message on self-exams at the Making Strikes Against Cancer Walk at Memorial Hall Saturday morning.

He's leading a team of family & friends, and he'd love to see you here.

"I'll be there, though there'll be a little less of me" he says.

About his friend who used self-examination, he says, "I'm so grateful that she spread the word."

"I have a hard time imagining if the cancer had continued to spread, and where it might have spread to - the spleen, the liver, the brain," he continued.

Self-examination "takes so little time, and can be beneficial."

There's a separate bid to raise awareness of breast cancer in men, a documentary called "Times Like These," by Nick Sadler and David C. Donato.

It details the story of Bill and Bob, two men who were strangers till their diagnosis, but have become supporters and mentors as they go through treatment and beyond.


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