Breast cancer is a serious disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “in 2020 there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685, 000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer.”
The most effective preventative measure against breast cancer has been awareness and early screening. Public awareness in the United States has grown with the inclusion of October being designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, most people believe that breast cancer is a disease that only impacts middle-aged women. That is simply not true. Breast cancer impacts men as well.
Men do not have breasts. However, males have a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples. This is an area where cell mutations can take place and cancer can develop. The amount of breast tissue present in children is the same for boys and girls until the onset of puberty.
According to the CDC, male breast cancer accounts for about 1% of the diagnosed cases or roughly 1 in 100 men. The problem for men is that since the disease is so female- focused, men often go undetected for a longer period of time.
The biggest risk for breast cancer is being female. But for men, most of the risks are similar to women, although having the risks does not indicate that breast cancer development is imminent.
- Age - Most breast cancers in men are diagnosed after age 50.
- Genetic mutations or even inherited changes (mutations) in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Men’s risk for breast cancer rises when a close family member has been diagnosed.
- Radiation therapy, especially to the chest
- Hormone therapy, for example to treat prostate cancer
- Testicular injury
- Liver disease. Cirrhosis or scarring of the liver can lower sex hormones and raise estrogen levels in men, which increases male risk of breast cancer.
- A rare genetic condition called Klinefelter syndrome which is when a male has an extra X chromosome. This makes the body produce higher levels of estrogen in the male.
The symptoms of breast cancer in men mirror those of women:
- A lump or swelling in the breast
- Redness or flaky skin in the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Nipple discharge, especially blood
- Pain or pulling in the nipple area
Once breast cancer has been detected it can spread:
- Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
- Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
- Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.
The treatment for men with breast cancer will usually be determined by the type of breast cancer and whether it is localized to the breast or has begun to spread. Most treatments have side effects.
- Hormone therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
The Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that when men are diagnosed with breast cancer they face the issue of facing their own mortality and a host of psychosocial issues as well.
- Shock at the diagnosis – This is different than a woman because women know that they can develop breast cancer, but may be shocked that it has happened to them. For men the shock is not only that it can happen to them, but that it has happened at all.
- Shame. Men may feel ashamed of their diagnoses or even feel that it is a punishment. These feelings are particularly prevalent in men from patriarchal cultures.
- Embarrassment. The treatment for breast cancer often results in the loss of hair. This is true for both women and men. For men however, the hair loss can often include facial hair which is a typical male trait. A Muslim man may feel self-conscious that his beard does not grow in or begins to fall out and not feel inclined to share with anyone why it is happening. In addition, men feel that the loss of hair gives the impression that they are sick and being sick enough for it to be visible can create feelings of embarrassment.
- Emasculation. Men may feel that breast cancer is a “woman’s disease” and that by having it it speaks somehow to their masculinity. This is associated with body image and people’s perception of themselves.
- Isolation. In social settings or even with family, men may not feel comfortable revealing their breast cancer diagnosis. When this happens, it narrows the support network that is needed to get through cancer.
Turn to Allah. Our spiritual wellbeing impacts physical health.
- Make Dua
- "Call upon your Lord with humility and in secret. Surely He does not love transgressors. And do not make mischief in the earth after it has been set in order,44and call upon Him with fear and longing. Surely Allah's mercy is close to those who do good” (Quran 7:55-56).
- Be diligent and seek medical assistance
- Abu Darda reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, Allah sent down the disease and the cure, and for every disease he made a cure. Seek treatment, but do not seek treatment by the unlawful.” Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 3874
- “Oh you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient” (Quran 2:153)
- Tawwakul – Rely on Allah
- “…And put your trust in Allah if you are believers indeed” (Quran 5: 23)
“So, Verily, With Every Difficulty, There is Relief” (Quran 94:5)