‘I was convinced that it was a cyst… when it turned out to be cancer, it was a shock,’ remembers Dough Harper, 61, who battled with breast cancer in 2012.
Breast cancer in men is rare, with just around 400 new cases in the UK each year, compared to around 55,000 new cases in women, which is why so few know it’s possible for men.
However, those 400 cases can be helped with the right treatment quickly, if awareness improves.
Doug, who lives in Plumstead, says: ‘I was laughing and joking with the doctor until I took my shirt off and his expression changed.
‘I was the first man in three years to be diagnosed with breast cancer in my local health authority.’
Doug is a father of five and former print worker, but now is sharing his story this Breast Cancer Awareness Month to spread the word that breast cancer affects everyone, joining the Real Self-Checker campaign by Asda Tickled Pink.
This October, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Asda, Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel! are encouraging shoppers to make checking their boobs, pecs and chests for the signs and symptoms.
Doug didn’t realise men could get breast cancer when he first found his lump.
‘All my life I’ve been scared of having cancer. If there was anything on the telly about it, I’d turn it over, or anything in the paper I wouldn’t read it,’ he says.
‘I was unaware that men could get breast cancer until a day or two before my diagnosis and even then I found out how rare it was, so I was not conditioned to the fact that I could have breast cancer.’
In the UK, around 85 men die each year from the disease, and 81% of those deaths are in men aged 65 and over.
When Doug told the people in his life about his diagnosis, he says most of them were shocked and had no idea he could get breast cancer.
‘I would say that about 95% of people I told were unaware that men could get breast cancer,’ he says.
‘So much so that when I went to the pharmacy the day after the diagnosis, to get Tamoxifen, the pharmacist shouted out to me in front of a load of people that the prescription could not be for me because this is medication for women.
‘For the first and certainly not the last time I told him sternly “men get breast cancer too mate!”‘
Even though only 400 men a year get breast cancer, the five-year survival rates are lower for men than women in the UK, Doug has gone on to find out.
‘This may be because men often ignore a lump, they leave it too late. There are some men who find it embarrassing even to check, but we’ve all got breast tissue,’ he adds.
‘Even some GPs do not seem aware men can be diagnosed with breast cancer. I have heard at least two stories from men I know that were told that it was probably just a cyst and to come back in six months.
‘Luckily for them they are ok, but that could have led to their deaths. Everyone needs educating.’
Doug had six rounds of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy. The chemo ‘knocked’ him out, and losing his hair was a hard pill to swallow, so he dyed it bright red then shaved it off.
‘It gave me some control over my body,’ he says.
‘The chemo knocked me out but my mindset was that if it was strong enough to do that to me, then it must be doing serious damage to the cancer.’
Breast Cancer Now’s senior clinical nurse specialist, Louise Grimsdell, says men as well as women need to check their breast tissue regularly.
‘The most common symptom is a lump in the chest area which is often painless,’ she says.
‘Other symptoms may include discharge from the nipple, a tender or inverted nipple, ulcers on the chest or nipple, or swelling of the chest area or lymph nodes under the arm.
‘We urge men to contact their GP if they find any new or unusual changes in their chest area – while most changes won’t be cancer, on the occasions it is, the sooner breast cancer is found the more successful treatment is likely to be.’
For information and support surrounding signs and symptoms or how to check, speak to expert nurses by calling Breast Cancer Now’s free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 or visit: breastcancernow.org/tlc-men.
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