- Kevin Wood needed a mastectomy to rule out breast cancer at age 18, he wrote for Today.com.
- Wood didn’t end up getting cancer, but the experience challenged his notion of masculinity.
- Breast cancer is rare in young men and progress in male breast cancer survival has stalled.
Kevin Wood was in high school when he noticed a lump above his right nipple that slowly grew “the size of cheese puff pastry,” he wrote for Today.com.
He didn’t think it could be breast cancer. After all, it was something that worried women like her mother. Young men his age, 18 at the time, were interested in girls, beer and sports.
But at the doctor’s office, a specialist told Wood he would need surgery to make sure it wasn’t cancer.
On Wood’s health records, the procedure was listed as a mastectomy. “Why does just-in-case surgery have the same name as surgery when a cancerous breast is cut?” Wood, now a Barcelona writer in his 40s, remembers thinking.
He kept the procedure a secret from everyone but a teacher, and especially remembers telling the medical team not to let his parents see his tattoo. (They obliged.)
Wood wrote that the worst came after the surgery. He navigated the halls of school wrapped in a “half-bra” protecting the surgical site and visited the doctor weekly to have the pus drained from his chest. “The pain was outrageous,” he wrote.
It turned out that Wood didn’t have cancer, but the experience taught him at an early age that either gender can get breast cancer – and forced him to wrestle with what it means. masculinity in a place and a time – Texas in the 1990s – when it was already riddled with doubts and anxiety.
“I remember how horrified I was at how my body had changed. How I was wearing perhaps the most definitive manifestation of femininity,” he wrote. “Decades later, the lingering anxiety of not being a man still blinds me to the fact that I could have had cancer at eighteen.”
Breast cancer is especially rare in young men
Breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women than in men, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Still, about 1 in 1,000 men will develop it at some point in their lives, the site says.
The disease is particularly rare in young men, with most breast cancers occurring around age 65 or 70.
The signs of breast cancer in men are similar to those in women, but men lack regular screening. This means that male breast cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage than female breast cancer, a fact noted by Wood in his article.
A lump, change in the size or shape of the breast tissue, nipple discharge, a newly inverted nipple, or red, itchy skin around the breast can all be reasons men should have their breasts examined.
Breast cancer survival has improved for women, but not for men
A study published last month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that while breast cancer survival rates have steadily improved for women in recent years, the same has not been true for men. . In fact, there were no significant improvements in breast cancer-specific survival rates among men with the disease in the United States between 1988 and 2017.
“Our results support the need for further research in male breast cancer to improve” survival in these patients, the authors wrote.
A 2019 research paper published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found that while treatments for female breast cancer often inform treatments for male breast cancer, they are actually two separate diseases, partly in due to differences in male and female hormones.
“Currently, no standard of care exists for men in British Columbia, and there is an unmet need for research and treatment options for this disease,” the authors of this article wrote.