Breast Cancer in men

Effect of mastectomy on men's body image

Most men who develop breast cancer need to have a mastectomy to remove their tumour, and it is less common for them to have reconstructive surgery or other cosmetic procedures afterwards than it is for women. (see ‘Reconstruction’). Some men will also need either radiotherapy or chemotherapy which can also alter their appearance, even if only for a short time (e.g. through the loss of head, facial, chest or other body hair) (see ‘Radiotherapy’ and ‘Chemotherapy).

Any major surgery can leave scars or other changes to the body (see pre and post operation male mastectomy photos), and people react to, and cope differently with, their changed bodies. Here men discuss the feelings they had about their body image after their breast cancer treatment.
Some men felt very self-conscious about their body following surgery which usually removed their breast tissue and nipple, whilst others said that they were not at all bothered by the change to their body.
Sometimes men’s feelings were affected by the appearance of the scar, and sometimes they were self-conscious about the absence of a nipple or an imbalance in the two sides of their chest. Feeling self-conscious stopped some men from going swimming. Some no longer wanted to expose their chests on holiday, although several said that they needed to be careful anyway about exposing themselves to the sun after having radiotherapy on their chest or because they were fair-skinned. John’s granddaughter helped him to overcome his self-consciousness by encouraging him to go in to the water whilst on holiday.
Quite a few men had felt self-conscious when they were first recovering from their surgery, or when they went on holiday or swimming for the first time, but they were gradually getting over it or had already got used to their changed body. Eddie said he still felt somewhat self-conscious about having to wear a compression sleeve to help prevent problems with his lymphoedema whilst on holiday in a warm climate.
Several of the men made comparisons between how they felt and how they imagined women would feel after a mastectomy. Mostly they suggested that it would be worse for a woman, but one or two did point out that it was easier for women to cover their changed body with specially-made clothes.
Several of the men, like Derek, suggested that their feelings about having a mastectomy might have been different if they had been a younger man.

Only one of the men had had any cosmetic surgery (see also ‘Reconstruction’). Having new nipples tattooed onto his chest had made a real difference to how he felt about himself. He now felt reborn as a man because he now looked the same as he used to before he was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated October 2013.

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