Breast cancer awareness needs to include men

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Leta Lohrmeyer
OPINION EDITOR

Pat Washburn talking in a class room
Pat Washburn shares pictures of the “Marlyn Mobile” and speaks on how men aren’t immune to breast cancer. Photo by Leta Lohrmeyer/the Gateway

The time has come for pink. Pink ribbons, pink football gear, pink balloons and pink shirts are all spreading awareness of breast cancer in October. We associate this with women, but men can get breast cancer, too.

Pat Washburn, wearing a t-shirt with “Men Have Breasts Too” written on the front, shared the story of her husband, who didn’t know men could get breast cancer until he got it. He passed away only months after receiving his diagnosis, the cancer having spread across his entire body.

In 2019, it’s predicted that about 2,670 new cases will be diagnosed in men and 500 men will die of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

“The mortality rate with male breast cancer is higher than it is with female breast cancer, possibly because of late detection,” Washburn said. “Because so many guys do not think they can get breast cancer. So, when they first see a symptom, they don’t go in. I know that was the case with my husband.”

It’s important to know what the signs of breast cancer are and how to look for them, because it could save your life.

Some symptoms for both male and female breast cancer include any size of lump in the breast tissue, changes to the skin covering your breast (dimpling, wrinkling, redness or scaling), changes to the nipple (turning inward or redness) and discharge from the nipple.

Early detection of these symptoms can be found by doing a breast self-exam every month or generally being conscious of any changes in your body. As the back of Washburn’s t-shirt says, “Guys, Don’t be afraid to Touch Yourself.”

But what happens if you do find signs of breast cancer?

“Typically, we say wait two weeks, because a lot of these fatty tumors or cysts happen quite often,” said Brandi Preston, UNO alum and founder of the Kamie K. Preston Hereditary Cancer Foundation. “If you’re doing your self-exam in the shower, you might feel some. Lumps and bumps are normal – they come and go. If it’s there for more than two weeks, that’s when you should go see a doctor.”

If it does last past two weeks, be proactive and go to the doctor. Both Washburn and Preston said if your doctor tells you “not to worry about it,” don’t be afraid to get a second or third opinion. Be an advocate for your own health.

Another misconception we might have is that cancer mainly affects older adults. While the risks of cancer is greater as you get older, breast cancer can happen at any age. If you detect the symptoms early and get treatment you can continue to live a normal life, Washburn said.

One symptom that can help us with early detection is family history. Hereditary factors are the highest risk for cancer, said Preston. Her mother died from breast cancer, making it Preston’s mission is to educate about hereditary risks and make sure people have access to genetic information.

“The benefits of genetic testing and knowing your risk – we can do earlier, more frequent screenings,” Preston said. “There’s preventative surgeries we can do. My breast cancer risk was 87%. When I was 22, I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, my risk went from 87% to less than 2%.”

Talk to your family to see if you might have a hereditary history of cancer. You can do genetic testing or take a self-assessment to see if you are at higher risk of cancer at hereditarycancerquiz.com.

Washburn is continuing her own mission of educating about male breast cancer working with the Male Breast Cancer Coalition. She drives a car dubbed, “Marlyn Mobile” named after her husband, across the country spreading the message of how “breast cancer does not discriminate… men too.”

“All I ask,” said Washburn. “Is that when you go out in October, if you’re wearing a pink ribbon, add just a splash of blue to it, please keep our men in your thoughts.”

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