Without breast cancer screenings like women, men need more awareness

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Monday, October 16, 2023
Without breast cancer screenings like women, men need more awareness
After finding most cancer centers have little experience with men, a local dad had all his questions answered at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

ASTON, Pa. (WPVI) -- Breast cancer in men is fairly rare, accounting for about 1% of new cases each year.

But it is still important men know the signs and risk factors.

L-J Blair thought it was a fluke when he felt a lump while coaching his daughter's soccer team.

"I just kind of thought, 'yeah, somebody gave me an elbow during practice,'" recalls Blair.

When he felt it again a few months later, his doctor suggested a mammogram and ultrasound, just in case.

Then came a biopsy.

"On the 10th of January at 4:20 in the afternoon, I got the phone call saying, 'Congratulations, you have invasive ductal carcinoma,'" he remembers vividly, adding, "I had no, no clue what that meant,"

Blair and his wife had loads of questions, but they found few answers or experience with male breast cancer, until they got to Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Breast cancer surgeon Dr. Austin Williams says cases for men are somewhere around 1 in 10,000.

Most men who develop it have a family history of breast cancer.

"That can be of women in the family having breast cancer, not necessarily men," he says.

About 40% have a hereditary gene, usually the BRCA-2 gene.

Age, obesity, smoking, and alcohol probably contribute, too, as they do in other cancers.

But without screenings like for women, "Male breast cancer tends to be diagnosed at a bit of a later stage." says Dr. Williams.

He says breast enlargement on both sides isn't usually a concern, but a lump on one side, or one that grows should be checked out.

So should a lump with changes to the skin over it.

Blair was able to have a lumpectomy, not a total mastectomy, followed by radiation, "Which was a little challenging and painful, with some burns," he notes.

But he didn't need chemo, and he's not a genetic carrier - a relief for his family.

Blair says embracing a positive attitude and being grounded in his faith were important for navigating this rare experience.

He brought his sense of humor going to the radiation department to receive the tattoo marks which help the technicians align the machine.

"I don't have any tattoos, so I said, 'Okay, I'm ready for my first tattoo. I brought in a picture of a big black panther with claws. I said, this is what I like," to the laughter of several nurses."

Nearly four years later, he raises awareness whenever he can, particularly among the male staff at the school where he serves as principal.

"Taking those opportunities to step up and help those that are in the community with this," he says.

He says several women on the staff have gotten mammograms because of his experience.

"And there was a friend of one of my female employees who came down, he developed breast cancer as well. So I was able to reach out to him as well," Blair says.

Although there's been very little breast cancer research specifically with men, there is a movement to get more men enrolled, to find the best treatments.