Robert George ignored skin irritation on his chest for months before visiting a doctor who diagnosed him with male breast cancer.
The 61-year-old New Yorker thought the mild irritation under his left nipple was an ingrown hair and he ignored the spot for ‘many months.’ When he eventually did make it to the doctor, even healthcare providers chalked the irritation up to a subcutaneous cyst, a non-cancerous bump beneath the skin.
Cancer, he said, ‘never crossed my mind.’
However, Mr George was later diagnosed with stage 2 male breast cancer. Stage 2 generally means the breast cancer is growing, but is contained in the breast or growth has only extended to the nearby lymph nodes.
In September, Mr George underwent a mastectomy, an operation that removes the cancerous breast, of his left breast and had nearby lymph nodes removed where traces of the cancer had been detected.
Mr George told Today: ‘I’m sure like most men, if we have any thoughts about cancer at all, we might think about lung cancer, if you’re a smoker, or prostate cancer.’
Robert George underwent a mastectomy, an operation that removes the cancerous breast, of his left breast and had nearby lymph nodes removed
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 2,800 new cases of male breast cancer in 2023, making the cancer among men far less common than among women, who will see nearly 298,000 cases in 2023.
About one in 833 men will develop breast cancer in his lifetime, compared to one in eight women.
The ACS also predicts this year will see 530 deaths from male breast cancer, compared to 43,170 from the cancer in females.
The mortality rate in men is 0.3 per 100,000 men, compared to 19.1 per 100,000 women.
While the breast cancer rate is low in men in comparison to females, Black men are at a much higher risk and are diagnosed with the cancer at a 52 percent higher rate than white men.
The death rate from male breast cancer is also higher among the group, standing at 0.5 deaths per 100,000.
Mr George, a standup comedian, said in a Facebook post last month he was ‘feeling pretty good’ following his surgery and said he will be undergoing radiation and ‘related medical treatments.’
In the post, he also called attention on male breast cancer and raise awareness.
He wrote: ‘Now here comes that all-important PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: One in 800 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, far less frequent than women, but ironically, it’s partly due to that relative low incidence that has caused male breast cancer survival outcomes to have not improved over the last 30 years, versus improved outcomes for women.
‘So, gentlemen, that means pay attention to your body — especially the brothas out there: Black men are diagnosed with breast cancer at a 52% higher rate than white men. That, by the way, includes [Mathew] Knowles — AKA Beyonce’s dad — who also underwent a mastectomy.’
Mr Knowles, the father of pop superstar Beyonce Knowles, revealed in 2019 that he had been diagnosed with breast cancer after a mammography and biopsy. The cancer was detected when it was stage 1.
He underwent a mastectomy to remove his breast.
Mr George told Today: ‘I’m sure like most men, if we have any thoughts about cancer at all, we might think about lung cancer, if you’re a smoker, or prostate cancer’
Following his mastectomy and lymph node removal, Mr George is preparing for radiation and possibly chemotherapy
Mr George’s cancer journey began far before is diagnosis in August. About one year ago, he noticed mild irritation under his left nipple that he thought was an ingrown chest hair.
He said: ‘It wasn’t a lump. It wasn’t something I was conscious of on a daily basis. I would occasionally notice it when I was in the shower.’
One of the symptoms of male breast cancer is redness or flaky skin on the chest or around the breast.
Other warning signs include nipple discharge, an inverted nipple, a lump or swelling in the breast and irritation of dimpling of the breast skin.
Months later, Mr George mentioned the irritation to his primary care doctor in June who originally thought it was a cyst and ordered a sonogram.
A surgeon Mr George was referred to also thought it was a cyst but ordered a mammogram to be safe.
Mr George told Today that a biopsy was then recommended.
He said: ‘I knew that breast cancer in men happens. You know that it’s rare and you say to yourself, ‘Wow, I hit the reverse lottery.”
“It’s obviously troubling and disturbing.’
Following his mastectomy and lymph node removal, Mr George is preparing for radiation and possibly chemotherapy.
While genetic testing showed Mr George didn’t have the genetic mutations that predispose someone to breast cancer, he did have a family history: His mother had had the disease. And family history is a risk factor for developing the cancer.
But now he is speaking out to raise awareness of a little-talked about diagnosis and is using his experience in his standup comedy routine.
‘This experience is certainly giving me a lot of material, even though I’m technically working with a lot less material,’ he says while pointing to his chest.
‘If you’re a comedian, the thing you most often want is stage time. However, stage 2 time is not exactly what I was looking for.
While his new material can be ‘a little bit dark,’ Mr George said, ‘I felt the need to express it — to share my truth. Even in a comedic setting.’
What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?
Breast cancer is rare in men. There are about 350 men diagnosed each year in the UK. This compares to around 55,000 cases in women.
The most common form of cancer in women and men is called ‘invasive breast carcinoma – no special type’.
The risk factors for male breast cancer include:
- Getting older
- High oestrogen levels
- Men who are very overweight (obese)
- chronic liver conditions, such as cirrhosis
- Some genetic conditions
- Klinefelter’s syndrome
- Exposure to radiation
- Family members with breast cancer or a breast cancer gene
The most common symptom for men with breast cancer is a lump in the breast area. This is nearly always painless.
Other symptoms can include:
- oozing from the nipple (a discharge) that may be blood stained
- swelling of the breast
- a sore (ulcer) in the skin of the breast
- a nipple that is pulled into the breast (called nipple retraction)
- lumps under the arm
- a rash on or around the nipple
The same treatments are used for breast cancer in men as for women.
Source: Cancer Research UK