Breast Cancer in men

Information and messages for men with breast cancer

Because breast cancer is such a common disease in women, there is a large amount of information in various formats about breast cancer aimed at women. However, breast cancer in men is rare. There are about 390 men diagnosed each year in the UK. This compares to around 54,800 cases in women. (Cancer Research UK November 2016). Although information written specially for men with breast cancer is now available (see BreastCancerCare.org and our ‘Resources’ section), this was not the case when some of our interviewees were first diagnosed.

Men varied in how much information they wanted at different stages of their illness, including around the time of their diagnosis, during treatment and afterwards. Some of the men were very active in looking for information, particularly via the internet. Steve said ‘the first thing you do is Google it’ and Roy used the internet to find out ‘every mortal thing there was to find out about it’. Stuart had found an internet forum a useful way of hearing about other men who had had breast cancer. David S had found a breast cancer forum a particularly useful way of communicating with people because of his deafness. Mike (Interview 9) had ‘books and reams’ of information about breast cancer but ‘didn’t want to go any further than basically reading up on it and just understanding the bare facts of what I had and the treatment for it’.
Some of the men, however, wanted as little information as possible. Tom thought that ‘if you get too much [information] it can make you worry’. Mohammad thought that information on the internet could make you feel ‘very uncomfortable’ and more stressed. Mike C commented that ‘in the old days doctors wouldn’t tell you anything, now to my mind they tell you too much’. His attitude, like Bernard’s and Robert’s, was ‘Look, I just don’t want to know. Just do it, please!’.
Several wives had looked up information on behalf of their husbands. Derek (Interview 16) said his wife was a ‘dab hand on the old internet and she got chapter and verse on it’.
Although some of the men had found or been given information written specially for men with breast cancer, mostly they found that information about breast cancer is written with female patients in mind. David W said it made him wonder ‘Where’s my voice?’ In general men’s experience was that there was very little ‘out there’ especially for men. Often the men felt that small changes to the information could make it more appropriate to both men and women.
Men had different responses to the female-centredness of most breast cancer information. Some of the men had been active in helping to make more male-specific information available. A few had contributed to a leaflet on breast cancer in men produced by Breast Cancer Care, or had taken part in their breast cancer awareness-raising fashion show. Steve was working with his breast cancer nurse to help produce better images of what a man’s body looked like after mastectomy.
These efforts have resulted in more information being available that is specific to men, and a move towards less ‘gender-specific’ language in some other breast cancer information.
Many of the men thought that information resources about breast cancer in men still needed to be improved and they all saw a real need for greater awareness of breast cancer in men amongst the general public. They thought this was important firstly because men needed to know that it was possible for them to get breast cancer (see ‘Men’s awareness of breast cancer in men before their diagnosis’, ‘Other people’s reactions’ and ‘What should breast cancer in men be called to raise awareness’).
They were also concerned that men should get the message that, if they developed any unusual symptoms (see ‘Signs and symptoms’) they should not hesitate to go to their doctor to get it checked.
Another reason that they felt it is important for there to be more information about breast cancer in men, and for greater awareness in the general public and amongst health professionals, is to help ensure that men who have breast cancer do not have to endure insensitive reactions in daily life (see ‘Other people’s reactions’) and when they are undergoing treatment for their breast cancer (see ‘Experiences as a man in various breast cancer treatment settings’).


Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated June 2017.

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