Although uncommon, men are also diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s estimated there will be 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer among men in the U.S. this year alone; and often, men are diagnosed at later stages than women. To help us understand the facts behind male breast cancer, we’re speaking with breast cancer survivor, advocate, and Susan G. Komen national scholar, Dr. Wayne Dornan.
My name is Wayne Dornan and I am a male breast cancer survivor. I am currently 7 1/2 years post diagnosis. I can remember the date, the hour that I found the lump, and the day and the hour when I was told I had IDC. I have just published a book on my journey that I know will help both men and women who are dealing with their diagnosis. The book which is titled: “How I survived Breast Cancer: An Inspirational Journey of Hope and Fact” is available at Amazon.com. I also have a webpage that provides up-to-date information on breast cancer. The address is: htpp://howisurvivedbreastcancer.com. I would love to share more of my story with you.
Adam: 00:00 Although uncommon, men are also diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s estimated that there will be 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer among men in the US this year alone, and often men are diagnosed at later stages than women. To help us understand the facts behind male breast cancer, we’re speaking with breast cancer survivor, advocate and Susan G. Komen National Scholar, Dr Wayne Dornan. Dr Dornan, welcome to the show.
Wayne: 00:27 Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Adam: 00:29 Well, tell us a little bit of your bio and then after we understand who you are, I want to dive into your breast cancer story, if you don’t mind.
Wayne: 00:37 Okay. Well, I’m currently a retired academic. I’ve been in academia for over 40 years and I have a PhD in Clinical Neuroscience. About 10 years ago, it’s almost 11 now, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I got involved with Susan G. Komen and for the last decade I’ve been working very hard trying to get the word out about breast cancer and try and dispel some of the myths that we have about breast cancer for both men and women.
Adam: 01:14 That’s great. I love that, and there are a lot of myths, so let’s debunk a few of those. So, can you describe the difference between male breast cancer and how it’s similar to and different from women’s breast cancer?
Wayne: 01:28 Well, in fact, the ironic thing about it, and actually I think that it is part of the issue that males are overshadowed by pink, is that male breast cancer is pretty much very similar, and in some aspects almost identical to that in women. So, if you look at invasive ductal carcinoma, most women are what we call estrogen, progesterone and HER2 negative, and so are men. In fact, there are more men, probably close to 97% of men who are diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma are estrogen, progesterone and HER2 negative, and one of the myths that I try and get out there is that men have breasts too.
Adam: 02:17 Right.
Wayne: 02:17 Apart from some of the small intricacies that women have, our breasts are identical. Of course, the mass that women have are much greater than ours, but that’s one of the things that I try and get men to understand is, we have breasts too and if you have breasts, just like women, particularly if you have a history of breast cancer in your family, it doesn’t matter that you’re a male, you’re at high risk. So, those are the things that I try and get out there immediately.
Adam: 02:47 Right, right. That makes perfect sense. So, I know the occurrence of breast cancer in men is less. What is the prevalence of male breast cancer?
Wayne: 02:56 Well, I mean, hundreds of thousands of women each year are diagnosed and it ranges from 10 to 12% risk rate for a female, whereas in men, they call us the one percenter because we have a 1% chance of getting breast cancer. That said, as you mentioned already, thousands of men each year are diagnosed with breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, and unfortunately hundreds of men each year die from that disease.
Adam: 03:27 Right.
Wayne: 03:27 And the sad part about it, and I think it’s because of the lack of awareness among men, is that when men are finally diagnosed with breast cancer, their prognosis is a lot poorer than women because they wait so long.
Adam: 03:43 Right. Obviously women can have regular breast cancer screenings, but that’s not really available for men. So, what are some of the warning signs that men should be aware of related to breast cancer?
Wayne: 03:54 One of the very first things, although it didn’t happen to me because I remember when I saw my surgeon and he asked me if there was any family history of breast cancer and I said, “Not until today!” but that’s one of the first things that I have asked men is to look into the family history to see if their mom, grandmother or, in particular, God forbid, if there’s any male that’s been diagnosed. The risk rate jumps up exponentially for both men and women if they have had a male in the family diagnosed with breast cancer.
Adam: 04:30 Right.
Wayne: 04:30 So, apart from making sure that the family history is not there, men, it’s pretty easy. I found my lump when I was in the shower. It’s very easy for a man to do a self-examination and if you’re at risk, as part of your annual or biannual examinations with your physician, you need to get examined. There are screening ultrasounds available for men. I wouldn’t suggest that men do the same thing that women do after the age of 50 to do it biannually, but I would start off with men and tell them to become very familiar with their breasts and do self-examinations at least every six months.
Adam: 05:19 That’s great. I really appreciate that advice. You mentioned, as you were talking, that men do need to understand their family history and thus understand their risk of breast cancer. Are there any other steps that men should be aware of to better understand the risks that they may have?
Wayne: 05:36 One of the things that men have to avoid, and there have been some links that may predict someone who’s going to get breast cancer, and that is excessive alcohol consumption. So, that’s one of the things. I think that, just like anything, you have to take care of your body and watch your weight, watch what you’re taking into the body. Apart from that, we really don’t have a great handle on why some men or women get breast cancer and others do not. I mean, there’s no clear environmental link between it. They’re still working on that.
Adam: 06:14 Right, right. So, what advice, or what words of advice would you offer to those with a male breast cancer diagnosis?
Wayne: 06:22 For me, when I was diagnosed, it was like a one, two punch. Not only did I have to get over the shock of the C word, but I also had to get over the initial embarrassment about being a male with breast cancer.
Adam: 06:37 Right.
Wayne: 06:37 And that took years. Today I’m over the embarrassment and, in fact, I wear my diagnosis like a badge of honor. So, one of the things that I encourage men to do, if that ever happens, you need to get support and you need to make sure that you take charge of your diagnosis. I wrote a book on male breast cancer. Because I’m an academic, it included both men and women, but it was the first book that was published, and I still think it’s the only one, on male breast cancer. So, once you get over the initial shock, which it will be, and it takes weeks, sometimes months, then you’ve got to take charge of your diagnosis. Don’t be embarrassed about it.
Adam: 07:26 Right.
Wayne: 07:26 Make sure that you can understand. One of the most important things about a diagnosis of cancer in general is the pathology report. The pathology report basically dictates your treatment, and if you don’t understand your pathology report, you may not necessarily be getting the best treatment for you. And it’s okay to be aggressive to the surgeon or to the oncologist because it’s your life. So, don’t be afraid to ask some real hard questions, and if they can’t answer them or they get a little bit annoyed about your questions, maybe it’s time to see somebody else.
Adam: 08:05 Yeah, that’s a really good point. You’ve got to be your own advocate. You know, I’ve often wondered about male breast cancer, not only it’s prevalence and how you look for it and are aware of it, but even just its impact on you as a person. It sounds like you’ve really come through it and you’ve really made a good platform out of helping other people through that, and I really appreciate that about you.
Wayne: 08:28 Right, and I just want to say, those five words that, “You have invasive ductal carcinoma”, basically changed my life. One of the hard things about breast cancer with men is it’s very difficult, if not impossible to get into a clinical trial, but the FDA has just come out with a proposal that they will no longer accept the sponsor’s application for a drug trial for breast cancer if it doesn’t include men. So, that’s one major step in the right direction for getting men into clinical trials, because I’ve had men email me or call me and say, “I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s back. I now have metastatic breast cancer, and I can’t get into a clinical trial because I’m a man”, and that’s got to be stopped.
Adam: 09:21 Right. Wow! I never even thought of that. I appreciate you sharing that with us. Dr Dornan, this was great. I really appreciate you being on the show. Maybe I can even have you back again sometime.
Wayne: 09:31 My pleasure and I thank you very much for having me.
Intro and outro music is City Sunshine by Kevin MacLeod. Ad music is Blue Skies by Silent Partner. The Real Pink podcast is hosted by Adam Walker, produced by Shannon Evanchec and owned by Susan G. Komen.