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Busting the myth of male breast cancer

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Incidents related to male breast cancer are on the rise.

As Movember, a month dedicated to raising awareness about men’s health, is coming to an end, it is important to shed light on an issue that often gets overlooked – breast cancer. While breast cancer is the single greatest cause of cancer for women globally and reportedly affects almost 2.7 million people, the disease is usually associated with the colour pink, giving the impression that it’s only a female disease.

However, the incidents related to male breast cancer are rising, highlighted Dr Suzanne Robertson-Malt, Associate Professor, Director Health Sciences, School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Health, the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), in an interview.

According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, about one in 833 men will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. While that statistic may not sound as daunting as it is for women, the fact that male breast cancer is so rare makes it uniquely challenging.

The doctor stressed that the breast cancer signs and symptoms are the same for both males and females. “The breast is the same tissue for both genders. Men and women need to get into the regular practice of self-examination, both visually and by touch, to ensure early detection. Young men should get into the habit of assessing if they have any abnormal lumps on the breast or underneath their armpit. They should also seek care as soon as they notice any discolouration of the breast tissue or discharge from the nipple that’s unusual.”

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Dr Suzanne Robertson-Malt

Furthermore, Dr Robertson-Malt highlighted that the moment one can actually feel a breast lump is, in many ways, late. While mammography is the gold standard for diagnosing breast cancer, it will only detect a lump that’s of a cherry size. So, it is crucial to be on the lookout for observing symptoms beforehand, such as recognising increasing fatigue, dietary changes or some swelling in the breast. There could also be increased warmth in the breast because one of the classic signs of cancer is that it uses a lot of blood and capillaries to grow.

Eliminating toxic environments

Unfortunately, cancer has become a by-product of our modern era, and one of the primary reasons breast cancer cases are on the rise is because our environments are so polluted. Several reports have highlighted that the increasing amounts of hormones released into the water and overuse of antibiotics in our bodies and the food chain can have a long-term impact on us and our genetic strength.

“Our well-being is the most important thing we have in our in our hands. As a community, we need to be aware of this and work with governments to make sure that our environments are as healthy as they can possibly be,” the doctor added.

Primary prevention through risk modification can help identify the chances of developing breast cancer. For instance, if a family member has had breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer, it can put one at a higher risk. Therefore, in such cases, people can opt for genetic tests and counselling to identify their risks. Furthermore, obesity is another risk factor which can be modified through proper diet and exercise.

Dr Robertson-Malt concluded: “It is crucial to ensure people have the right information at the right time. The information needs to be delivered in a way that doesn’t scare people but empowers them to act. It should encourage people to take control of their well-being and stress that regular self-assessment is incredibly important.

“If detected early, breast cancer can be managed well, and education is key to achieving this. Through events at UOWD, we want to help our students change their perception of breast cancer and understand that both young men and women need to pay attention to breast cancer signs and symptoms.”

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