Three words will most likely come to mind when one thinks of Breast Cancer:
Breast cancer is treated solely as a woman problem that dismisses the idea of men also becoming victims of the disease hence limiting chances of surviving it. Gender stereotypes, neglect of medical treatment, and lack of knowledge contribute to breast cancer being deadlier among men than women.
The first time I heard of a man with breast cancer was an episode of the HBO series Oz. The character Ryan O’Reily was diagnosed with the illness and was instantly in denial. “I’m a guy, not a woman. I have a chest, not breast!!!,” O’Reily screamed at the doctor. O’Reily felt instant shame even though both men and women develop breast tissue. Women are stereotypically the weaker sex so that by association would make him (O’Reily) such. The idea of a man having breast cancer disrupts the social construct of them being the protectors of women. Society views women as natural nurturers; therefore, is more sympathetic towards them while the man lives within a mental wall of shame with internal feelings of an outcast.
Even though the chances of men detected of breast cancer is less than 1%, the results are more deadly than women because of late discovery. Symptoms like a painless lump, discharge, or soreness all around the nipple area are most times ignored by men themselves as well as doctors who would assume the cause anything other than. The risk factors, according to BreastCancer.org, are the following:
- Taking hormonal medicines
- Being overweight, which increases the production of estrogen
- Having been exposed to estrogen in the environment (such as estrogen and other hormones fed to fatten up beef cattle, or the breakdown products of the pesticide DDT, which can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body)
- Being heavy users of alcohol, which can limit the liver’s ability to regulate blood estrogen levels
Breast Cancer Awareness month began with a surprise this year when Beyoncé’s father, Mathew Knowles, publicly revealed that he has the disease. Knowles stated he wanted to encourage other men to speak out to bring awareness to the illness so that more research can be done to find a cure. While for women who have breast cancer, there are various medical and support group outlets to help ease the journey, it is the complete opposite for men. Most cancer health care facilities have “women” in their welcome signs, excluding men. Limited to no resources only fuels the anxiety, trauma, and embarrassment men experience that prevents them from seeking treatment.
Low statistics of men diagnosed with breast cancer does not mean that the concern should be next to nonexistent. By ignoring men who have the disease is to disregard those who love them and their children who are under threat because breast cancer can be passed on to them genetically. Loyalty to dated stereotypical ideals of manhood is not worth putting at risk the life one has to live. There is no need for men to feel humiliation from within or outside their community. The concern for action is now because a tragedy does not affect just one but everyone.