I Have Male Breast Cancer, Not Chest Cancer


Attention to detail is important for cancer survivors, explains a male breast cancer survivor. “Asking guys to examine their ‘chests’ is not only ineffective, but also disingenuous.”

As a professional stage magician for most of my life, I know how easy it is to deceive people. And while fooling audiences through a mutually enjoyable presentation of misdirection and clever manipulation is a harmless sort of exchange, the stakes are significantly higher when it comes to surviving a life-threatening disease. If you have cancer, details matter.

Cancer is tricky enough without fudging the facts, whether espoused intentionally as in the snake oil hucksters pitching cancer cures on the Internet or proliferated by well-meaning non-medical citizens pitching their ideas via social media.

Let’s face it, the worldwide web is a remarkable tool for finding useful information, but it’s also a safe harbor for inaccurate, unscientific misconceptions. That’s why legitimate clinical trials are peer reviewed for accuracy. A good rule of thumb is to remember that opinions, whether created by well-meaning individuals or propagated by so-called experts in the field, are simply ideas peppered with biases, beliefs and too often, misguided personal sentiments.

In a world of political, social or religious differences, opinions of others may challenge our beliefs. But in the world of cancer, lives are at stake.

Many men are unaware that breast cancer is a rare but real possibility, and many are reluctant to check their breasts for signs of cancer, let alone admitting that they have breasts in the first place. We can point to social typecasting as the cause for much of that hesitancy. Guys with so-called “man breasts” are too often seen as overweight, non-athletic individuals in need of a good night out with the boys. Other men are embarrassed by the thought of a breast cancer diagnosis or even fearful that having breast cancer will detract from their masculine image.

It’s only natural to expect that male breast cancer will catch guys by surprise. And this is the very reason that our mortality rate is higher than that of our female counterparts. An alarming number of primary care doctors admit that they neglect to remind men to check their breasts, and asking guys to examine their “chests” is not only ineffective, but also disingenuous.

If you’re a man, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, accept that you have a couple of breasts on that chest. And that is precisely where breast cancer occurs. “Precise” is the key word here. Breast cancer has no room for ambiguity. Nor does it support timidity or resistance to clinical truths.

If it helps to alleviate any embarrassment you may feel over your natural anatomy, consider this: Male and female breasts are virtually identical until we reach puberty. Sure, things change dramatically after that, but all breasts are capable of harboring cancer.

Think of your chest as a global map. Is it helpful to know that you have a case of breast cancer occurring somewhere on one of your continents? That’s pretty vague. But narrow your search down to the city where that cancer exists, and you have a much better chance of navigating directly to your destination. Surviving cancer leaves no room for guesswork. Precision matters, especially when lives are at stake.

There’s a gust of controversy blowing across America right now and it’s all about breasts versus chests. I hope to encourage men to come in from the storm and check your pecks. Call them what you like but remember, they are breasts and not tiny chests.

When we mince words we miss the message. Male breast cancer can kill you, especially when it’s hampered by embarrassment, avoidance and unsupportive terminology.

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