Breast Cancer in men

What should breast cancer in men be called?

Breast cancer in men is very rare. Around 397 men are diagnosed in the UK, just a small fraction of the 49,564 or so new cases that are diagnosed in women each year (Breast Cancer Care - Dec 2012). This means that many people have never heard of breast cancer in men and assume that all people with breast cancer are women (see ‘Men’s Awareness of Breast Cancer before their Diagnosis’, and ‘Other People’s Reactions’). Breasts are often seen as being something that only women have; it is relatively rare for people to think of men as having breast tissue.

Because of this, some men found it difficult to know what was the best way to refer to their cancer and the naming of the illness aroused some strong feelings. In much of the medical literature, breast cancer in men is referred to as ‘male breast cancer’, but some men really disliked this terminology. Bill felt strongly that ‘breast cancer in men’ was a more appropriate term and he asked many cancer organisations in the UK to change the wording on their websites and in their literature.
Most men said they’d used the term ‘male breast cancer’ without really questioning it. Several thought that the term ‘male breast cancer’ gave an emphasis that was needed to make people aware that breast cancer could occur in men, or they thought that other terms would not be helpful.
Mike felt the term ‘chest cancer’ was more suitable, but another believed it would be confusing because it is not a term that is commonly used.
Some of the men who did not think that the term ‘male breast cancer’ was problematic also wanted to stress that breast cancer in men and women was the same disease.
A few men had been challenged when they told other people that they had breast cancer (see ‘Other people’s reactions’). These people seemed to find it difficult to accept that men had breasts or breast tissue.
Some man felt conscious of the embarrassment that they might feel when saying they had breast cancer, or they thought it may make other people feel uncomfortable, surprised or disbelieving (see ‘Other people’s reactions’).

Last reviewed 2013.
Last updated 2013.


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