Breast Cancer Can Happen to Men Too
Posted on March 9, 2017, 2:00 PM
If you have to fight cancer, you would be fortunate to have someone like Georgeann Atlas by your side. At 70 years young, Georgeann has gone head to head with the disease multiple times herself, and as a medical advocate when her mother, father and brother were diagnosed with cancer.. She joined the fight to end cancer by serving as an officer for two cancer charities. As a stage four cervical cancer survivor, a diagnosis Georgeann received when she was just 27-years-old she says, “Cancer has been a part of my entire life.”
Today, Georgeann is fighting cancer once again. This time she’s fighting for her husband, Roy. A prostate cancer survivor, Roy is currently a breast cancer patient in remission. She’s determined to share his story to help spread awareness about male breast cancer and hopefully help others in the process.
Roy’s journey with cancer began with elevated PSA counts that eventually led to a stage four prostate cancer diagnosis. After 19 biopsies and 45 radiation treatments, Roy’s PSA numbers continued to jump. Finally, Roy was referred to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “Our oncologist at Fox Chase requested a full pelvic and body scan,” Georgeann remembers. “We were used to bad news at this point, but I couldn’t believe it when he came in the room and hit us with breast cancer.” Sure enough, he showed Georgeann and Roy a 2.8-centimeter mass two inches from Roy’s left breast. If someone had done a breast exam on Roy, they would have felt it, but because he’s a man no one had thought to check.
“We went straight to the women’s center to get the biopsies we needed to decide what our next steps would be,” Georgeann recalls. “We decided on surgery with Dr. Richard Bleichner followed by radiation and chemotherapy.” On April 1, 2016, Dr. Bleichner removed 28 lymph nodes from Roy’s breast. Four of those lymph nodes contained live breast cancer cells, and two of them had breast cancer cells surrounding them. “We chose not to do reconstructive surgery because frankly, I’m going to get my face done before Roy has his boobs done,” Georgeann laughs, “but, looking at Roy today you would never know he had surgery.”
About six months before Roy’s breast cancer diagnosis, he experienced a pain going across the left side of his chest. His doctor ordered a full cardiac workup which showed nothing. The doctor thought it must have been a pulled muscle. We now know that tenderness in a man’s chest, breast or underarm area could be potential symptoms of male breast cancer.
“We are eternally grateful to Fox Chase Cancer Center, as well as our medical oncologists, Matthew Zibelman, Marjio Bilusic and surgeon Richard Bleicher, for saving Roy’s life,” Georgeann says.
Today, Georgeann and Roy are laughing again, enjoying their lives one day at a time. After completing both chemo and radiation, Roy goes every three months for scans on his breast and abdomen. At every appointment, Georgeann goes in arm and arm with Roy, and of course armed with Roy’s medical records, questions to ask, and a plan just in case the doctor delivers bad news. “We have eight grandkids and six kids between us,” Georgeann says. “We thank God for everything we have and do our best to be prepared and stay positive no matter what news we may receive.”
Georgeann is also doing her part to help raise awareness for breast cancer in men. While there are very few cases on record, together they have donated Roy’s case study and photos before and after surgery to benefit cancer research. She’s also encouraging women not to be shy about checking the men they love for possible lumps. Although the breast cancer risk for men is somewhat low, you never know when it comes to cancer. Please read the signs and symptoms of male breast cancer below.
Male Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms
The American Cancer Society details these are possible symptoms of male breast cancer to watch for:
• A lump of swelling, which is usually (but not always) panless
• Skin dimpling or puckering
• Nipple retraction (turning inward)
• Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
• Discharge from the nipple
• Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt.
These symptoms do not definitively define breast cancer in men, but should be checked out as soon as possible with a healthcare professional. Because people don’t usually expect breast cancer to happen in men, diagnosis is often delayed. One small study found that the average time between first symptom and diagnosis was 19 months, or over a year and a half.i
Men also need to be aware of their family medical history. The American Cancer Society reports that about 1 out of 5 men with breast cancer have a close relative, male or female, with the disease. If any women in your family have experienced breast or ovarian cancer and/or are known to carry BRCA mutations, they should consult a healthcare professional whether they should pursue genetic testing to determine their own BRCA status. Men in families with repeated and/or varied cancers should also talk to their healthcare professional about Lynch syndrome which can be a risk factor for breast and other cancers. Other risk factors include testicular conditions, certain occupations involving work in hot environments, obesity, estrogen-related therapy, liver disease, heavy alcohol consumption, radiation exposure, and Klinefelter syndrome. ii
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