With the pink ribbons and the feminine messaging, it can be easy to forget that breast cancer is not just a woman’s disease. Since breast cancer is predominantly found in females, it can be shocking to many when they realize that it affects men as well. It came as a surprise to Scott Kelly, a Birmingham lawyer, when he received the harsh news that he had breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, it is projected that 2,650 men in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 compared to the projected 281,550 women in the United States that will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. The lifetime risk of getting breast cancer in men is one in 833.
At 42 years old, Kelly discovered that he was that one in 833 after he had come across a lump on his chest in April 2016. After several doctor visits, they recommended he have a mammogram done. A biopsy later revealed that it was breast cancer.
Kelly was treated at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, where a team of breast cancer specialists met with him to discuss his treatment options.
“I had a mastectomy on my left side—that’s where the lump was,” Kelly said. “They took the whole left breast. They test all the tissue. There is always a concern about if the cancer has spread or not. There had been a small amount that was found in my lymph nodes after the surgery, so that changed my treatment plan to include the need for chemotherapy.”
Six weeks post-surgery, Kelly started his chemotherapy treatment in early July 2016 and completed treatment three months later in October. After finishing chemotherapy, Kelly was placed on an estrogen blocker called tamoxifen, reducing the chances of the cancer returning.
“It kind of made me take a second look at everything,” Kelly said. “It definitely changes you and your approach to things. I can’t say that I’m always back on the right track as far as appreciating things and trying to make time for what’s important in life… (but it) allowed me to have a little bit of a wake-up call with how purposeful I wanted to be and to live a life where you’re doing things you want to do and not doing things you don’t want to do, which is pretty sad that cancer has to be what makes you realize all of that. It changes your perspective on things.”
Kelly then sought out options for reconstruction surgery. While reconstruction options were available locally to women, Kelly struggled to find any options for men in Alabama. This led him to travel to Boston for the surgery, making him realize that there wasn’t a lot of information out there about breast cancer in men.
Dr. Catherine Parker, a breast surgical oncologist at the UAB Breast Health Center, emphasizes how important it is to give men the same opportunities for reconstruction options as women.
“You don’t want to not offer a guy nipple tattooing and things that you may think, ‘Oh, he doesn’t care about that,’ but they do,” Parker said. “You don’t want to not offer them the same opportunities that you would talk to automatically for a woman, whether it is nipple tattooing, sometimes they do pec implants… or fat grafting so (they) can still have that shape. … You want to make sure that that body image is just as important for a male as it is a female.”
Treatment options for a male can look different than those for a female. For example, an overlooked concern for men is losing their chest hair during radiation treatment. Another concern is that while men have options for both mastectomies and lumpectomies, most men end up having mastectomies.
“Most men potentially may end up with a mastectomy, because they often present a little bit later,” Parker said. “If you think about it, there’s not a lot of tissue, so if you have a mass that takes up the whole central breast, it basically is a mastectomy.”
Parker emphasized how important it is for the UAB Breast Health Center, as well as other treatment centers, to make male breast cancer patients feel as comfortable as possible because of the disease’s disproportionate impact on women.
Parker recommended everyone, regardless of gender, do a self-examination once a month to feel for any lumps or misshapen nipples. If anything appears to be different, be sure to notify a healthcare professional. Parker also suggested that everyone keep track of their family history in regard to breast cancer and to maintain a healthy diet and body weight.
When it comes to breast cancer research and trials, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama is raising funds and awareness to help breast cancer patients. Founded in 1996, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama is a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that supports breast cancer research in the state. All the dollars raised go to Alabama researchers.
“Research that we’re supporting helps men as well as women. Honestly, a lot of times with cancer research what is exciting is that the advances in one type of cancer can be translated to a different type of cancer,” Beth Davis, executive director of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, said. “They’re learning that some drugs that are being used to treat certain types (of cancer) can also be to treat breast cancer, so you’re advancing research across all cancers when you support breast cancer research.”
Despite the pandemic, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama invested $1.05 million in 2020. This year, their goal is to raise $1.1 million.
Here are the ways you can support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama:
- Make an online donation on their website
- Mail a donation to P.O. Box 531225 Birmingham, AL 35253
- Attend one of their year-round events: On November 7, 2021, they’re hosting Pink Up the Pace 5K & Fun Run at the Crestline Field at Crestline Elementary School at 2 p.m.- 6 p.m. They have additional events throughout the year, such as archery tournaments, golf tournaments, barbecue competitions and more.
- Volunteer to help out for their events: You can apply to volunteer online.
- Purchase Alabama’s Breast Cancer Research specialty tag for your vehicle: When you pay the yearly $50 specialty tag fee, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama receives $41.25 of that, and 100% of the funds received go to local research.