BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — Many women know the importance of monthly breast exams to screen for changes that may indicate breast cancer. But few men perform monthly screenings. Doctors say men should be examined because as rare as it is, male breast cancer is real.
“Males can get breast cancer, though it only accounts for about one percent of all breast cancers,” says Dr. Catherine Parker. She is a UAB breast surgical oncologist.
Male breast cancer is something Birmingham attorney Scott Kelly found out about when doctors diagnosed him with it five years ago. Kelly, who was 42 years old at the time, says he was on a business trip in New York, taking a shower when he felt an itch on his chest. When he scratched the itch that when he says he felt a small pebble like lump. “My first thought was that doesn’t belong there. You know something’s weird about this.” said Kelly.
Kelly’s friends, including a close friend who’s a UAB doctor, encouraged him to have a health professional take a closer look. “She said yeah you should get it checked out, but look, you’re not that special. Look the percentage chance that this is something is so small.” A mammogram and other tests at UAB confirmed Kelly was special after all. “It never occurred to me that I could have breast cancer you know and I was more worried about like a prostate cancer diagnosis or something like that,” he said.
Doctors recommended surgery and performed a mastectomy on his left breast. His follow-up treatment included chemotherapy and the estrogen blocker Tamoxifen, a drug doctors prescribe to keep the cancer from coming back. His doctors took him off the Tamoxifen this past August.
We asked Dr. Parker about the survival rate of men with breast cancer. “I will say men often can present with a little more advanced stage because by most of the time when it’s found it’s a palpable lesion. Still, men have a very very good survival rate, you know, we would say around at least you know 90%.”
Kelly is now cancer-free, back to work full-time, and consistent with his Pilate sessions where his workout buddies recently celebrated his victories. “Scott has been here since the very beginning so to be able to celebrate, support him and the way that he supports everybody else in the community is just amazing, I mean, we’re a family.” said Emma Suttles Curtain, the owner of MPower Pilates and Cycles in English Village.
That community support is important to Kelly, who also understand the importance of raising awareness about breast cancer in men. “Men need to be aware that it could happen to them right, whether you have a family history or not it can just happen.”
Kelly and Dr. Parker say it’s also important for men not to have a fear of stigma because of breast cancer. Whether men call it breast cancer or chest cancer, it’s important that if you feel something strange in your chest, you get an examination. Early detection is key to survival and Dr. Parker stresses that breast cancer is highly curable.