While breast cancer usually occurs in women, though rarer, it can occur in men as well. And when it does, the cancer is deadlier than it is for women. According to Fei Wang’s 2009 study Overall Mortality After Diagnosis of Breast Cancer in Men vs Women shows that men’s breast cancer survival rate was only 45.8% vs 60.4% in case of women. There are two main reasons for this.
First, the lack of awareness. Most people think that men can’t get breast cancer because they don’t have breasts. However, men do have some breast tissues and they can be affected by breast cancer. Consequently, the cancer in men gets diagnosed at later stages of cancer development in comparison to women, making it harder to treat.
According to Cancer, Male Breast Cancer by Ahmed Khattab and Dulabh K. Monga, in around 40% of the men with breast cancer, it gets diagnosed in Stage III or IV. By that time, cancer is already spread to other parts of the body, reducing the survival rate. Why are men diagnosed at later stages? Annette Schork, R.N. of the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center’s Cancer AnswerLine says, “Men don’t think it’s breast cancer; they think it’s something else,” thus causing a delay in reaching out for diagnosis.
Further, data shows that breast cancer usually affects older men, and with age against them, they may have even more difficulty fighting the disease if it’s diagnosed at a later stage.
The second reason for a lower survival rate for men is the lack of male participation in breast cancer clinical trials. Due to the lack of ubiquity in the male cases of breast cancer, the focus of clinical trials on breast cancer has been predominantly on women. A 2013 research by Dr Oliver Bogler shows that only 18% of all phase 3 trials for breast cancer include men. Consequently, treatment of breast cancer for men is based on the data collected from female subjects. While some treatments can be used for both men and women, others can have a different effect on male patients than it does on women going through the same treatment.
A 2017 study titled Pathological Characterization of Male Breast Cancer: Results of the EORTC 10085/TBCRC/BIG/NABCG International Male Breast Cancer Program showed significant differences between men and women suffering from breast cancer. The research showed that unlike what is seen in female patients, the histologic grade used to identify the type of tumour present and determine the prognosis is not significantly correlated with clinical outcome in men. Given this, better and more effective research needs to be done on men with breast cancer to define a specific treatment for men.
If we want to improve men’s survival rate, governments and health organisations must conduct awareness drives and campaigns to make men more aware of this disease including talking about the risks, symptoms and chances of getting it. By increasing awareness about breast cancer, we will encourage men to reach out for a diagnosis as early as possible. A good example to follow can be the mass media campaigns that were conducted to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS.
According to a study titled Effectiveness of Mass Media Interventions for HIV Prevention, 1986-2013: A Meta-analysis, reducing HIV/AIDS disparities can be achieved by mass media interventions that are effective in providing information to a lot of people. However, to make these campaigns successful, they need to be conducted for a long period of time. Awareness through media can be spread using traditional media such as television, radio, newspapers, and now, of course, social media, which allows for mass, but also targeted, campaigns. Let’s all stop making gender-based assumptions and empower men to fight breast cancer.