Male breast cancer is a rare but deadly condition, however it receives little money for research or clinical trials and its awareness is hampered by sexual bias. Are we ignoring the 400 men diagnosed in the UK with the disease every year?
Whenever we see breast cancer mentioned on television, in adverts or online it’s in association with the colour pink, representing a cancer that is female, feminine or womanly. Media promotion of breast cancer is aimed at women, leading people to think that men don’t develop the disease.
So what effect does this have?
Many men don’t know that male breast cancer exists (Iredale et al, 2007) or if they do know, they may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable asking questions or having breast screening checks.
There is no clinical recommendation for men to have their breasts checked, though it is highly recommended for women (SIGN, 2013). However both men and women can develop the condition and it is just as serious for men as it is for women. According to Cancer Research UK, 20% of the 400 men in the UK diagnosed with breast cancer died in 2010.
Research has shown that as a percentage of all cases, more men than women die from the disease (Iredale et al, 2006). This is perhaps due to low awareness levels of male breast cancer, leading to men being diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, and ultimately leading to more deaths.
Likewise, the same is true for research and clinical trials looking at breast cancer in male patients. While researching the disease I came across little evidence of research into psychological effects and clinical trials for breast cancer drugs in men.
Low incidence of male breast cancer has hindered investigators’ attempts to develop randomised prospective trials, so the disease remains poorly understood. Is low incidence a valid excuse for men affected by breast cancer to receive poor treatment?
Men are simply not being treated with the same standard of care as female breast cancer patients and it needs to be addressed. Men experience reduced life expectancy due to late diagnosis and poor treatment due to a lack of male-specific clinical research and trials.
Researching male breast cancer for a course assignment has given me an insight into other rare conditions too. Because they are rare diseases, this serves as an excuse for governments not to request enough clinical research projects and for the medical community not to carry out research, and those with rare diseases suffer.
Rarity should not be an excuse, a disease is a disease and there should be treatment equality and care for all rare conditions.
Scarlet Pigot is a third year student nurse
Cancer Research UK (2014) Breast cancer key facts: England, Wales, Scotland and Isle of Man
Iredale R et al (2006) The experiences of men with breast cancer in the United Kingdom. European Journal of Cancer; 42: 1, 334-341
Iredale R et al (2007) The information needs of men with breast cancer. British Journal of Nursing; 16: 9, 540-544.
Scottish Intercollegiate Government Network (2013) Treatment of Primary Breast Cancer: Edinburgh: Scottish Government.