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Men can get breast cancer too

KISS drummer Peter Criss, 63, who was diagnosed with breast cancer — a disease associated with women for obvious reasons — is now spreading awareness on the subject.

health and fitness Updated: Oct 25, 2009 00:29 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Sanchita Sharma

A tough rocker with a lump in his breast can keep Jay Leno in business for weeks, but I will desist from giving it the same treatment because breast cancer is a serious subject. KISS drummer Peter Criss, 63, who was diagnosed with breast cancer — a disease associated with women for obvious reasons — is now spreading awareness on the subject.

I’ve been told by more than one man that what upsets them more is the location of the cancer than the fact that they have been diagnosed with cancer. “It took me days to tell my kids I had breast cancer. And when I did, I could see they were trying not to laugh. Can you imagine what I went through? Why can’t they call it chest cancer in men?” says a father of two teens, who has since then come to terms with the cancer. Perhaps the fact that he is well now has helped him see the humour in the situation.

Unlike the beleaguered father, Criss, who was also the voice on KISS classics such as Beth and Hard Luck Woman, wants to talk about the lump in his breast. Criss detected a lump in his left nipple in December 2007 and underwent surgery and radiation in 2008. He admits he felt weird waiting in a room full of women, but he went ahead. He’s now cured and free of cancer. Embarrassment is the reason why many men don’t seek treatment for symptoms associated with the breast, hoping that the problem would go away on its own.

The result is delayed diagnosis and in many cases, death. Dr G. K. Rath, the director of the cancer institute at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, says, “Too many people come to us in late stages, by when the cancer has spread to other tissues. Unfortunately, most breast cancer awareness programmes focus on women but we need to also tell men that they too can have breast cancer.”

Though breast cancer among men is one hundred times less common than among women — breast cancer is the number one cancer in the metros, and the number two in India — it kills a higher percentage of men affected because they do not get
treated.

In India, 25 lakh (2.5 million) people live with cancer at any given moment, with over 8 lakh new cases diagnosed every year. Cancers causes 5.5 lakh deaths each year, largely because over 70 per cent of cancers are diagnosed in advanced stages of the disease, shows the national cancer registry data from the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Apart from childlessness and late childbirth, the risk factors are the same for men and women. Some risks, like family history, cannot be changed, but both genders can cut down risk by losing weight, quitting smoking and eating a healthy low-fat diet.