Not for Women Only
Men With Breast Cancer
Oct. 23, 2000 -- John Cope was at a business meeting one
Saturday in 1987 when he noticed that his left nipple was rubbing against his
shirt and itching continually, "as if I had a mosquito bite."
Later that evening, he pulled off his shirt and realized that
the nipple was inverted, instead of protruding slightly as normal. Probing the
nipple, he felt something unusual -- "not exactly a lump, more like a hard
spot." He called his doctor, got an immediate appointment, and was
scheduled for a biopsy. A few days later, he had the results: "Malignant
neoplasm of the male left breast." In other words, cancer.
Men with breast cancer account for less than 1% of all cases in
the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. This year, some
1,400 U.S. men will be diagnosed, and 400 will die. Like Cope, they face the
problems and isolation of being, as Cope puts it, a guy with a female
Cope's doctor, for instance, had never seen a case of male
breast cancer before. All of the books and support groups he found were for
women. And a hospital clerk once frowned in confusion when Cope's doctor
ordered a CAT scan. "We have no [insurance] code for male breast
cancer," she said.
In part because male breast cancer is so rare, men who get it
tend to ignore the initial symptoms. A 1998 study of 217 men with breast
cancer, published in Cancer, found that they waited an average of more
than 10 months before calling a doctor to discuss symptoms. One result: By the
time they are diagnosed, 41% of men with breast cancer learn that it has
already spread to surrounding tissue, organs, or lymph nodes -- compared to 29%
of women. Still, the five-year survival rate for men with breast cancer is
quite high -- 81%, compared to 85% for women.
Cope, who was diagnosed with his fourth recurrence of cancer
last fall, recounts his unlikely story in a new book, A Warrior's Way.
The following is an excerpt: