Male breast cancer a rare but real threat — West Orange, NJ man shares his story
Louis Graham had no hesitation eight years ago or in 2020 about going to see a doctor when he noticed something was off.
Because of that, the West Orange resident can continue to focus on eventually moving to Central America. And he hopes his story of survival serves as a warning for other gentlemen across the Garden State.
"I'm cancer-free, no chemo. Knock on wood," the 68-year-old told New Jersey 101.5.
Graham continues to recover from surgery in February to have cancer removed from his left and right breast, which testing revealed had also spread to his lymph nodes. As part of his recovery, Graham is taking medication to prevent his cancer from reoccurring.
Male breast cancer is said to account for less than 1% of breast cancer diagnoses worldwide. In the U.S., the risk of female breast cancer is 1 in 8, and the risk of male breast cancer is 1 in 833, according to the American Cancer Society.
According to Graham's doctor, Maria Kowzun, a breast surgical oncology specialist at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, male breast cancer tends to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage compared to female breast cancer, mostly due to a lack of awareness that men can develop such an issue, and the absence of yearly mammograms for adult males.
"Studies evaluating survival in male breast cancer patients suggest that male breast cancer patients experience a worse prognosis compared with women," Kowzun said. "Thus it is important for men with breast problems to be evaluated early."
Graham noticed a lump on his right breast about eight years ago. He went for an x-ray, but the scan came back clear. Then, in December 2020, he sought medical advice again after feeling like his "left breast was on steroids."
"It was blooming and blooming and blooming," Graham said.
He was referred to Kowzun, and a series of tests resulted in the diagnosis of breast cancer on both sides.
Kowzun noted that an x-ray is "not the imaging modality of choice to assess for breast cancer."
"The best initial study recommended is a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, followed by a biopsy, with possible consideration of an MRI to evaluate extent of the disease once a breast cancer is diagnosed," she said.
Family history appears to play a role in diagnosis. Kowzun noted that 15% to 20% of men with breast cancer have a family history of the disease, compared with only 7% of the general male population. Male breast cancer could also be the product of increased estrogen exposure from therapies, liver dysfunction, obesity, and other conditions.
According to Graham, his healing process post-surgery should take about a year. He plans to start physical therapy on Friday and hopes to get back to the gym sometime soon.
Graham recently fell in love with Belize during a trip to the area. His visit in August was scheduled to last for seven days, but he stayed for 12, looking for property he could call his own.
"I plan to move to Belize within the next two years," he said.
Graham advises men to get a physical every year. Kowzun said men, like women, should look out for suspicious clinical breast exam findings, such as a palpable breast or axillary masses or skin changes such as nipple retraction or ulceration.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.