The Realities of Men and Breast Cancer

Women aren’t the only ones who suffer from breast cancer. Thousands of men are diagnosed with the disease every year. Mike Nelson, a breast cancer survivor, hopes that talking about his battle will save other men’s lives.

Health Monitor Staff
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What do Shaft star Richard Roundtree and Kiss drummer Peter Criss have in common? Both men are breast cancer survivors.

In fact, nearly 2,000 men in this country are diagnosed with breast cabcer annually—and more than 400 die from the disease. Mike Nelson, a breast cancer survivor, is doing all he can to spread the word.

"I was always the only man around"
Even though his mother had battled breast cancer and died of ovarian cancer, Mike Nelsen, 49, of Baltimore, didn't suspect he had breast cancer even when the nipple on his right breast got sore. He also didn't worry when his nipple leaked. But when blood appeared, he finally consulted a doctor, who ordered further evaluation.

"When I went for the mammogram and ultrasound, I was the only man having the procedures done," recalls Mike, a high-level sales executive. "Then they did a needle biopsy that hurt like heck."

Two days later, his doctor phoned to tell him he had male breast cancer (MBC). Mike had excused himself from a meeting to take the call—and then went right back in. He figured that if thousands of women could handle a breast cancer diagnosis, so could he.

Treating his cancer
Mike soon learned that he carried the BRCA 2 gene, which is a genetic mutation that increases cancer risk. He breezed through his mastectomy. But his first chemotherapy treatment was another matter.

A few days after the treatment, he went to Chicago on business. While there, he developed a fever and crippling abdominal pain. He spent four days in the hospital with an inflamed cecum, part of the large intestine. The cecum was slow to heal and Mike needed surgery on it before doctors could attempt another round of chemo.

First, his doctor recommended he get a new test to assess the genetic structure of his tumor, to help predict the effectiveness of additional treatments. The test is so new that many doctors don't yet rely on it. After undergoing several tests, Mike learned he had little chance of recurrence.

Spreading the word on male breast cancer
As added assurance, he takes hormone-blocking drugs. He had some side effects that prompted women friends to say, "Now you know what it's like to have hot flashes."

When the Baltimore Orioles sponsored a breast cancer awareness day, Mike was invited to throw out the first pitch. "My friends are amazed that I talk about it so openly," he says. "But I don't feel weird at all. I want other guys to know about this."

October 2010