Improving support for men with breast cancer

Men get breast cancer too, and for me it’s really important that we’re part of that breast cancer awareness. – Rob

Around 150 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia every year. While this is a small proportion of the total number of people diagnosed – less than 1 per cent – it’s a diagnosis that can bring very specific challenges for men.

In 2014 BCNA developed a booklet, Men get breast cancer too, for men diagnosed with breast cancer. This year, we have undertaken more work to better understand the challenges men face.

As part of this project, we interviewed five men who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer. They told us their main challenges were:

  • finding breast cancer information specifically for men
  • dealing with the stigma of having what is seen to be a ‘woman’s disease’
  • feeling isolated and alone.

Also worrying is that men tend to be diagnosed at a later stage. This is partly because breast cancer in men is rare and awareness of it is low and, of course, because men are not included in breast screening programs.

Until recently there has not been much tailored information for men who are diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia. The lack of gender-specific information can be distressing, as men may not understand very much about breast cancer, treatments and where they can go for help. More information is now available, with BCNA’s Men get breast cancer too booklet and the publication of the book Male Breast Cancer: Taking Control by Professor John Boyages. The men we spoke to said these resources help to fill the information gap and give them more control over their cancer journeys.

The men we spoke to all found it valuable to connect with other men living with breast cancer, although they told us it is hard to find support groups that are tailored to their needs and that help them to feel included and comfortable. Other helpful supports included seeing a counsellor, connecting with other men around the world through online support groups, and joining recreational clubs such as dragon boating teams.

Finally, the consultation showed us that men often feel excluded from breast cancer awareness events and campaigns, either because the language used refers only to women or because of the use of the colour pink, which many men feel does not represent them.

BCNA will continue to raise awareness that men can get breast cancer. For example, we were delighted that former NSW Premier, and breast cancer survivor, Nick Greiner AC agreed to speak about his personal experience of breast cancer at our recent Sydney Pink Lady luncheon. We have also sponsored a man with breast cancer to speak at a large breast cancer conference on the Gold Coast in November.

Man diagnosed with breast cancer

Issue 77
Summer 2016