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Sharp Health News

Breast cancer: it’s not just for women

Oct. 23, 2015

Male breast cancer

Breast cancer patient David Smyle with his family.

David Smyle was concerned when he noticed a few irregularities on his left breast. At age 57, the father and husband is in good shape and stays active playing tennis regularly. He decided to pay a visit to his doctor to get checked out and was ultimately diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

Breast cancer is rare in men and only affects 1 percent of the overall breast cancer population. David is sharing his journey in the hopes of helping to raise awareness. A lack of general awareness and education about male breast cancer causes many men to ignore their symptoms, which often leads to a late diagnosis when the cancer is at an advanced stage.

Now being treated at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, David says, "I've met lots of nice people during my chemotherapy treatments. It's always interesting to hear what others are going through, and I feel very lucky that I have my overall health and that my disease was caught early."

Dr. David Bodkin, a board-certified oncologist/hematologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont, is overseeing David's chemotherapy and has a personal interest in the disease.

"I've been interested in male breast cancer since I started practicing in 1990," says Dr. Bodkin. "Twenty-five years ago, my uncle was diagnosed, and it was a shock to our family. Our family had dealt with many other types of cancer, but no woman, let alone a man, had been diagnosed with breast cancer."

"Now we know it is rare. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, but breast cancer in men is 100 times less."

According to Dr. Bodkin, men don't have screening mammograms, so he urges men to do breast self-exams just like women to catch the disease early. In David's case, he was prompted to see his doctor when he noticed tenderness under his left breast, changes to his left nipple and hardness in the area under his areola.

Risk factors for breast cancer in men include aging; radiation exposure; heavy alcohol consumption; liver cirrhosis; obesity; testicular disease or surgical removal; taking hormones for sex change; and hormonal therapy for prostate cancer. Family history and the BRCA2 gene are also risk factors.

David gets a great deal of support from his wife, daughter, friends and caregivers. He says the biggest challenge for his family has been the unknown and the final outcome. But his positive attitude on beating his cancer and his contagious smile say otherwise.

"I've always been self-confident and have the attitude that I don't worry until I know there's something to worry about. I assume everything will work out," he says. "Sharp, my caregivers and Dr. Bodkin have all been very nice, accommodating and friendly; they have a sincere concern for my health and comfort."

His message to other patients is one of optimism. "Assume the best, not the worst. Take it as a challenge, one you will win. Be positive, try to live a normal life and don't be afraid of your cancer. I don't hesitate to tell people I have cancer and always tell them it's not a problem, it's all good. I caught it early, and it's just a bump in the road."

Dr. Bodkin also echoes a positive sentiment. "My most important advice is to get screened. The earlier cancer is detected, the better the prognosis. And by the way, my uncle did well and passed away many years later — of old age."

Read our 2016 update of David's story here.

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