When top bureaucrat B.V. Rathod noticed a tiny bump on the right side of his chest three years ago, he dismissed it as a harmless boil. But it grew into a hard, chickpea-sized nodule and the 55-year-old was forced to consult a doctor. The bad news followed.
“I can never forget that day in October 2008. My son collected the test report and called me. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Rathod, director of the state industries department. “It was shocking. I didn’t even know that men get breast cancer.”
Not wanting his wife and two daughters to know, Rathod immediately swore his son to secrecy.
Rathod is not the only one. Though breast cancer is typecast as a ‘woman’s disease’, a significant number of men are diagnosed with it every year.
Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel treats approximately 30 new cases of male breast cancer every year. Dr S.H. Advani from Jaslok Hospital sees at least 12 new male patients each year.
According to medical literature, just one in 100 breast cancer patients is a man. But some doctors say the number has been increasing gradually. “These days, around four to five per cent of my breast cancer patients are men,” said Dr Anupama Mane, a Pune-based cancer surgeon.
Breast cancer afflicts men of all ages, be it 20-somethings or octogenarians, but a majority of patients are middle-aged. “Most of them fall in the 45 to 55 years age bracket,” said Dr Vani Parmar, breast cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial.
Doctors at Tata Memorial have collected data on male breast cancer patients and are analysing it to understand the disease better.
Due to lack of awareness, breast cancer in males is often diagnosed late. Sometimes, they are also misdiagnosed with gynecomastia, a condition that leads to enlargement of male breasts. Worse still, the cancer tends be more aggressive in men. “Men have less breast tissue so the cancer progresses faster and infiltrates into the muscles attached to the chest wall,” said Dr Parmar.
The good news is that men respond equally well to treatment. Rathod completed his last radiation cycle at Tata Memorial in May 2009 and got back to work immediately. After dealing with the initial shock, he took the cancer head on.
“I thought if women can face it so boldly, why can’t I?” said Rathod, who is not embarrassed to call himself a “breast cancer survivor” now.
Of course, there are still some awkward moments, especially when he goes for follow-ups. “Once, when I was sitting in the hospital’s waiting area, a woman asked me to vacate the chair, not realising that I am a patient, too,” he said.