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With more than 200 cancer types identified, a male breast cancer survivor finds five to ponder.
Why do more men get cancer than women? And why do boys get cancer more often than girls? The American Cancer Society reports that half of all men get cancer at some time in their lives compared to about one third of women.
And so, I'd like to discuss male cancers for a moment, and not simply because I'm a guy, but because there are many forms of cancer that are gender-specific and these five are the ones that I am most likely to develop in addition to the male breast cancer that I already have. In fact, according to the National Breast Cancer Association, men with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer are also at higher risk of getting prostate cancer at a younger age.
But when it comes to surviving and finding a cure one day, I try to remember that there's no good reason to tag the disease with a male or female identity. In my view, cancer is cancer no matter the gender. I've always been color blind (I'm not kidding about this) so pink or blue is a distraction for me — a division that only serves to dilute the worldwide quest to find a cure. A cure for every cancer. A cure for all of us.
But, let's get back to the men for a moment. The five cancers that are most often found in males are: prostate, lung, colorectal, bladder and melanoma, according to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
It's estimated that 1 out of 9 men will develop prostate cancer in their lives, but only one out of 45 will die from it. Of the top 20 cancers listed for men, the male breast cancer I live with is one of the rarest, with the odds of developing it being just 1 in 1,000. The survival rate is abysmally low, due in large part to delayed diagnosis.
For a long time now, the reason for men contracting cancer more often than women has been a mystery, but recently some Boston-based research just out in the journal Nature Genetics has discovered a possible key in the X chromosome.
If you're like me, a cancer survivor who is interested in all of the latest discoveries in the world of cancer but with a short attention span when it comes to the mathematics and formulas for cancer research, the details of the discovery are a bit complex. So, you may simply want to be reminded that females have two X chromosomes and males have an X and a Y. But now that I've brought this discovery to your attention I feel obligated to at least offer a hint about the method by which it works.
X-inactivation is a process by which one of the copies of the X chromosome present in female mammals is inactivated. The inactive X chromosome is silenced by its being packaged in such a way that it has a transcriptionally inactive structure called heterochromatin. I'm not sure this makes it any clearer for us, but the study basically indicates that women may have some "advantage" due to this effect.
It's easy to feel ill-informed by our cancer diagnosis. It's easy to feel small in the shadow of such a massive and powerful adversary. And the science behind cancer detection, correction and prevention is difficult to follow, with new discoveries being made virtually every day.
For this reason, if we are "lucky" enough to have one of the most common cancers, we can rest assured that our disease has received a good deal of scrutiny from scientists, pharmaceutical companies and clinical trials. For the rest of us, it's a bit of a waiting game as we hope for a breakthrough in the cancer we carry, while steadfastly remaining active and involved in our own health and healing.