When R 'Shaft' Has Breast Cancer: Men Can Develop The Disease Too (dateline November 9, 2000) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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'Shaft' Has Breast Cancer: Men Can Develop The Disease Too (dateline November 9, 2000)

When Richard Roundtree, the actor who played the original witty private investigator John Shaft in three films, announced that he had breast cancer,  many men and women were surprised to learn that men could develop breast cancer too. Though far less common than female breast cancer, the American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 1,400 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2000 and approximately 400 men will die from breast cancer this year. Detecting breast cancer early, as Roundtree did, can help increase the chances of surviving the disease.

Roundtree first felt a lump under his nipple as he was showering one morning. At first, he dismissed the lump as nothing, but a few weeks later, he noticed that it had not disappeared. To be cautious, Roundtree contacted his doctor, who recommended a biopsy.

When the biopsy revealed cancer, Roundtree was referred to an oncologist and underwent a mastectomy. A modified radical mastectomy is the most common form of surgery for male breast cancer and involves removing the breast, the lining over the chest muscles, and part of the chest wall muscles. Some or all of the axillary (underarm) lymph nodes may also be removed and sent to the laboratory for pathological examination to determine whether that cancer has spread past the breast.

After surgery, Roundtree underwent six months of chemotherapy to help destroy any remaining cancer cells. In addition to surgery and chemotherapy, other common forms of treatment for male breast cancer include radiation therapy and hormone therapy (often with the drug tamoxifen).

Fortunately, Roundtree's cancer was detected early enough for treatment to be successful. However, because breast cancer is far less common in men than in women, and many men believe that only women get breast cancer, men often ignore the early signs of breast cancer, attributing them to infection or another cause. Some men are embarrassed to find a breast lump and delay making an appointment with their physician. Since men usually have less breast tissue than women, male breast cancer does not need to grow far to intrude into the skin and muscles underneath the breast. Men who experience signs of breast cancer should see a physician.

Signs of male breast cancer include:

  • Abnormal lumps or swelling in either the breast, nipple, or chest muscle
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast
  • Nipple discharge

While only approximately 1% of all breast cancer cases occur in men, several risk factors have been identified that make some men more likely to develop breast cancer than others. These risk factors include:

  • Advancing age (the average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is between 60 and 70)
  • Family history of breast cancer (in women or men)
  • Radiation exposure (usually from treatment of cancer inside the chest such as Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma)
  • Liver disease
  • Treatment with estrogen
  • BRCA2 gene mutations
  • Klinefelter's syndrome (a genetic condition in which a men is born with two or more X chromosomes)

While most male breast changes are due to benign (non-cancerous) abnormalities, men should report any persistent breast changes to their physician for clinical evaluation.

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