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Breast Cancer in men

Going to the GP and being referred to hospital

After noticing a symptom, people can find it difficult to decide whether they think it is something that is serious enough to take straight to a doctor. In the case of breast cancer (and other cancers), further tests in a hospital are needed before a diagnosis can be made, and breast cancer is more treatable the earlier it is diagnosed. The tests used to determine whether someone has breast cancer include a mammogram, an ultrasound, a needle biopsy or another type of biopsy. Once a definite diagnosis of breast cancer has been made, more tests may be needed to check whether the cancer has spread and to help the doctors to decide exactly which course of treatment to recommend (see Experiences of having tests and getting the results).

Because breast cancer is a very rare disease in men, many men did not know that their symptoms could be a sign of breast cancer (see Men’s awareness of breast cancer before their diagnosis). Not surprisingly, therefore, some men waited for some time before they went to see a doctor, sometimes several months, and some said that they only went to their GP after being encouraged to go by their wife.
 

Tim had no idea men could get breast cancer. He used Savlon on his tender, inverted nipple. He...

Tim had no idea men could get breast cancer. He used Savlon on his tender, inverted nipple. He...

Age at interview: 73
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 60
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Then towards the end of 1995, I began to get an anomaly in the nipple of my right breast. It became a bit sensitive, and initially I have to say I thought- I decided to christen it my jogger’s nipple. Not that I actually do any jogging but you know it was- it sort of sounded good. However it got worse and in fact the nipple inverted which I found out later was a clear sign of breast cancer, but at that time I had no idea that men could get breast cancer and so I started putting Savlon on it which was a brilliant idea, to put Savlon onto cancer (laughs). Eventually, we visited [name of place] and my wife’s brother is a doctor. And one day, under her persuasion I got him to look at it, and he said to me, “I really think you’d better go to your GP and get it checked out”. So, when I got back, this is now in early 1996, I went to see my GP, and for the first time, he suggested, because he mentioned that I should need to see a Mr [name of surgeon], and I knew a Mr was a surgeon. So I realised that we were talking about something serious, and “yes” he said, “It looks as though you may have breast cancer”, which really was an extraordinary thought.

 
We met the team who were going to look after this, and they showed me the mammogram and there I found I was very lucky because the actual tumour was striking outwards, you could see how, on the thing you could see it was striking towards my nipple, which was why the nipple pulled in. And I think I was very lucky and the reason for that, and one of things that I talk about a lot, to try and help men, is that we don’t have very much breast tissue, and if we don’t get at it quickly, and I didn’t, I hung about, it can get off and running into other parts of your body and then that’s the danger. So I was extremely lucky that it went outwards towards the nipple, and so it didn’t start going the other way.
 
No it was just very tender, you know if you bumped it, ow! You know. And one gets that from time to time. As I say it, you know I thought it was jogger’s nipple, slightly jokey, but if you do bump your nipple or something, it gets sensitive, and I was being dismissive, I put the Savlon on, when it inverted, it definitely turned in like that, you see? But I think that was somehow reflex! I just thought that maybe it’s a little bit of a, you know sort of infection, you know that sort of thing you see. And I guess, I mean people have asked me before and I can’t remember now, I guess I hung about for something in the region of six months. Which is quite a long time, particularly for a man I would say, you know. Yeah.
 
Did you tell your wife at that point, that it was sore?
 
Oh yes, I mean she started saying to me, come on [name], you know stop being a silly Englishman, you know, I mean- go to the doctor. Oh, I said, it’s nothing. But she was persuading me and in fact I mean she also was saying, why don’t you talk to my brother, and it was to him that I showed it for the first time. And so she was aware of it and, I think she felt that I was a bit stupid not to have it looked at, you know.
 
And did your brother-in-law say to you it could be cancer, or did he just say, you should get that seen to?
 
No. No he just said, “Look, I think that’s important, you must go and see your GP when you go home”. He didn’t want to say, but he guessed straight away, I mean he- because of this inversion you see. That’s apparently a very typical sign, of it. 
 

Stuart had a lump near his nipple but didn’t know men could get breast cancer. He went to the...

Stuart had a lump near his nipple but didn’t know men could get breast cancer. He went to the...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 36
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 It started back in January 2005 which is when I first noticed the lump on the right of my left nipple. I just sort of felt it and didn’t think anything of it, because I was, most men, think you can’t get breast cancer if you’re a man. This is what I thought, and so I left it and it was only about six months later that my wife felt it and said “what’s that?” and I said “well, I don’t really know, I think it’s a fatty lump or something”, and then she said “well, I think you better get it checked out at the doctors” so made an appointment at the doctors and still didn’t think anything of it. He felt it and said “yes, well it’s probably nothing, you know, but I’ll get you checked out by the… sort of breast care specialists at the hospital” … and made me an appointment at [the local] Hospital, which was probably about a week or so later with the doctor’s appointment. And then it was July ’05, the 18th of July, I think, and I had the appointment, went in, and of course, being a specialist they knew sort of something wasn’t right straight away, but they didn’t tell me that straight away, they sort of took me through somewhere else, had the mammogram, then they looked at it and then they took me into another room and said “yes, we’ll do a biopsy.” Did that, and then after that, about ten minutes later, they took me through to another room, sort of nice powder-coloured lilac room. And still didn’t think it was gonna be bad news but my wife thought “why are they taking us in here?” and that’s when they sort of sat us down and said “well, we think it’s breast cancer, but we’ve got to wait for the result of the biopsy just to be 100 percent sure.”

 
You first noticed the problem and then you just dismissed it for about six months, you said. Did… you just…?
 
Yeah, because I mean, as I said, I didn’t know that men could get breast cancer and my wife didn’t know either and I just thought that it was some sort of fatty lump. It didn’t… you know, it wasn’t actually on the nipple or anything so it wasn’t affecting the nipple, which might have made me think a bit more about oh something’s wrong, but just being to the right hand side of the left nipple I just sort of felt it every now and again and thought well, it’s not going away, but… nothing to worry about, it’s not hurting, you know, or anything like that, so that’s why…
 
But it wasn’t for another few months that your wife found it as well?
 
My wife felt it, yeah.
 
And she’d said…
 
And she said “well, go and get it checked out cos that shouldn’t be there, you know, it’s not right, really.”
 
Did you ask her about it? Did you mention it to her or did she find it herself?
 
I didn’t actually, no, and this is what happens with men, isn’t it, really? I mean, you keep quiet about things and… oh, there’s nothing. You don’t get it seen to quick enough and that’s something I’ve learned obviously since then that if there is something wrong, however small, just go to the doctor and get it checked out because, you know, although it may be nothing most of the time, sometimes it could be, and just thank God that I did go at that time to get it checked out.
 
So would you say it was really because of your wife’s prompting you thought you’d better go and see your GP?

Yeah, because if she hadn’t have said it I would have probably just still left it until such time as she had or it got worse and that might have been too late, and that, I think, is one of the things with breast cancer in men is that the ignorant side of it because it’s not as well known that men don’t do anything about it, and it’s normally when they’re sort of over 60 that you tend to find that most men with breast cancer are older and it’s too late, you know, once they want to do something about it, it’s… it’s too late and too advanced, so…

When you went to see your GP, did he give… he didn’t give you indication he thought it could be cancer? You just thought “that’s a bit strange”, that’s what he said to you and…?

Yeah, he didn’t give me any indication at the time that it could be cancer, but he may have thought it and obviously referred me to the surgeon up at the hospital.

But you said it was quite quickly you were seen at the hospital?

Yeah, I think it was within sort of a week or so that the appointment was made at the hospital, yeah. 
 
 

Tom had banged his nipple. Two months later his wife saw the nipple was inverting and suggested...

Tom had banged his nipple. Two months later his wife saw the nipple was inverting and suggested...

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 60
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 The first time I got to know I thought it was a bruise. I walked into some timber, and it did swell, but not knowing I didn’t know at the time men could get cancer, breast cancer. So my wife noticed it and noticed the nipple going inwards and she told me to get in touch with the doctor, and when I got in touch with the doctor, like I said, I hadn’t seen the doctor in 36 years.

 
What was the time difference between you first finding a lump and then, or you bumped it (yeah) and then the inverted nipple? Was that a wee while?
 
Oh, yeah, yeah.
 
Was it?
 
Yeah. It was… I would say a couple of months, a couple of month.
 
And you didn’t say to your wife then that you had that sort of swelling?
 
I showed her the swelling.
 
Right.
 
But I thought it was bruised, so my wife saw it, the nipple going inwards, that’s when she told me to go.
 
Right. And how soon after her telling you to go did you go and see the doctor?
 
The following day.
 
Oh right.
 
And then it was about a couple of weeks, cos it was about a fortnight before Christmas, it was January, and Christmas time I went and that’s when I saw the doctor again, saw the two specialists, saw the surgeon, operated on and out. 
 

David first noticed his lump on holiday. Later in the year he went to his GP surgery and the...

David first noticed his lump on holiday. Later in the year he went to his GP surgery and the...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 52
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 I first noticed a problem? Believe it or not, I was on holiday. I think we were in Italy at the time, around Lake Garda, and shower, either drying or washing, I don’t know, but you just brush and you’re thinking “that’s strange, that.” I got my wife down yeah, it’s a lump of some sort, but didn’t think much about it, but this… it didn’t go away. I kept checking it every so… and it would, sort of underneath the, you know, underneath the pectoral muscles, around here somewhere, not thinking a lot about it, not knowing anything, just kept my eye on it and it kept going, but it wasn’t going away and sometimes it was, it seemed larger than, you know, other days, it just seemed to… oh, it’s gone again. Oh no, it’s still there. You know, because of the work schedule, decided to go… well, there was a window in the work schedule in October, so I went to the doctor’s in October, to the local GP. Unfortunately it was a locum because our GP was on holiday, so… saw the locum, who looked at it and he just said, “Well… don’t think there’s much to bother, it could be a cyst or something like… I don’t think there’s a lot to bother about, but we’ll have it checked out. I’ll refer to you to the hospital and let them have a look at it”, so… he just said “if you haven’t heard anything in two weeks, give us a ring or give the surgery a ring.” And I ain’t heard anything in two weeks. And I rang the surgery and they just said “haven’t got anything but we’ll check up for you, you know, we’ll make a few phone calls and see what’s going on, we’ll give you a ring back.” So within, I’d say within a couple of hours they rang me back and just said “yeah, there’s an appointment made for you, it will be in December”, which is like, ten, eleven weeks away from whenever. So thinking, I mean, little problems with, you know, lumps and bumps all over the body anyway, so I just thought, well, ten weeks is not too bad, you know? It’s pretty quick, really, so… went for the… on to the clinic, it were just a general surgery clinic, for them to have a look and I just, you know, mentioned that it was in the breast area and then he just looked and he just said “it’s not really – if you’d have been a woman and you developed a breast, that lump would be well underneath and nowhere near the breast anyway, so… but we’ll have it looked at” and he just felt around a little bit and went “mmm… I think we’ll have a scan on it”, you know, ultrasound.

 

Mike had recurrent cysts which repeatedly flared up then disappeared. After a while he went to...

Mike had recurrent cysts which repeatedly flared up then disappeared. After a while he went to...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 59
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 I think I made the biggest mistake that… I never really contacted the doctor earlier on. I think last year was obviously 2007 so it must have been 2006, I had sort of problems, slight problems with my left breast or my left nipple, as… I do vaguely remember that I was sort of getting, like, cysts come up, well… always happened on a Friday, always, excuse the expression, it’s Sod’s Law, it was Friday night and it used to become rather painful Saturday, Sunday would be great, Monday disappear. I took no notice of it. I thought it was like a cyst, like a spot you get on the face and it flares up and it must have been some time later, I took no notice of it, just forgot about it. Then I suppose come to 2008, February, March, April, it started to flare up again, the same cyst, and it always happened on a Thursday, Friday, I could not lie on my chest, it was painful, but couldn’t feel anything there. Then… I dismissed it. And then round about, I think, April or May, I can’t remember the exact date, I sort of felt something. Shall I, shan’t I? Then I went to see the doctor in May.

She examined me, she couldn’t find anything, and then a couple of weeks later, May, that’s the end of May, so beginning of June, it flared up again and then I could feel something. Then my wife said to me, “Look, you know, instead of leaving it, go and see the doctor, you seem to have a cyst there, it keeps going.” It may be, what, my wife had suffered always with cysts on her breasts and she’s always had it looked at and always had them drained. I thought well, possibly it’s the same sort of problem. Go along to the doctor and she examined me and she said “I don’t want to frighten you, but I don’t like, you obviously, there is something there, I’ll send you to the hospital.” 

Other family members, particularly daughters, had also helped to encourage men to go to their doctor once they realised that they had breast cancer symptoms. One man said his daughter noticed something was wrong with his nipple when he was gardening bare-chested in the sun. Occasionally, other family members were aware that men could get breast cancer and encouraged men to visit their GP.
 

John’s wife and daughter both knew men could get breast cancer and encouraged him to see his GP....

John’s wife and daughter both knew men could get breast cancer and encouraged him to see his GP....

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 63
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The next morning she says, “John I’m telling you, you need to get that checked just to be on the safe side”. “Yeah, yeah, yeah”. Anyway what I didn’t know was, she’d told my daughter, and a couple of nights later, a lovely summer’s evening, I was out cutting the back lawn. And I’d got my shirt off, and my daughter came down the back path and, straight away she said, “Dad, that wants looking at,” she says “because I’m telling you straight men can get breast cancer as well as women”. So I says, “Yeah ok love, ok”. Anyway she kept on to me all that night, “Dad are you going to go to the doctors and have that looked at?” I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”. And I’ll tell you a funny story attached to this part, in a moment… So, a couple of more weeks probably passed and they kept on to me and I have to go to the GP’s surgery periodically to have my blood pressure checked. So the practice nurse, I said to my wife and my daughter, I says, “To keep you two quiet, I says next time I go to see the nurse, I’ll show her see what she thinks”. Anyway a few weeks later I had to go for a blood pressure check, and, the nurse, smashing girl, you know “you ok, blah blah blah ok”, “yeah” I says, “When you’ve taken my blood pressure I want to show you something see whether it’s worth bothering the doctor with”.

So anyway she took me blood pressure you know, that’s fine. She’s now “what’s the problem?” So I undid me shirt and I says, “Look at that nipple compared with that one”… So she says, “Well ok” she says, “Jump up on the bed” and she pressed and what you called it, (cough) – and I’ll never forget she says “John” she says “I think to be safe we’ll get the doctor to have a look at that, just to be on the safe side”. And it still never registered big time that it was something serious you know. I think I thoroughly expected the doctor to say, you know, that’s, that’s fine that’s no problem. Anyway she made an appointment to see my GP, [name of GP] and I went a few days later. And she, you know she says, “You’re a bit concerned about one of your nipples John” she says “Let me have a look”. She had a look, up on the bed, pressed you know, felt, by this time, the nipple had gone a little bit on the hard side compared with the other one, but it still no. So anyway she says “John” she says, “to be safe, I think we’ll send you to the hospital and get the hospital to have a look at that”. So I says, “Ok [name of GP] ok”. Anyway she says, “I’ll see to it and the hospital will be in touch with you”. Anyway I was home about two hours from the GP’s surgery and the telephone rang and it was the hospital. “Mr (Name) you saw your GP this morning”. So I said, “Yes that’s right”. She said, “Well I’ve got an appointment for you”. And then something just slightly, I thought well, ‘My God that’s very quick, you know for a hospital, normally you make an appointment and you don’t see anyone for six months or something like that’. Ok, fair enough.

So anyway she gave me the appointment, and it still never registered with me, this sounds bizarre as I say, I don’t know what was going on in my mind, certainly not breast cancer, and my wife did say that she says “John,” she says “you know, are you prepared for what you might be told at the hospital?” “Hmmm” you know. So anyway the appointment came around and we went to the hospital, saw the surgeon, he examined me and I went for a core biopsy and mammogram, what you ladies have. And he said, you know, “Ok we’ll be in touch with you”. The following week I went back and it was then that one of the consultants said, “We’ve examined your core biopsy and we’ve found that some of the cells are cancerous”. And it wasn’t until then that … ‘I have breast cancer’. And I’ll be quite honest I just bit my lip and looked at my wife and… I didn’t know what to think or say, or, or anything. 

 

Tom’s daughter phoned her father the day after she noticed something wrong with his breast to...

Tom’s daughter phoned her father the day after she noticed something wrong with his breast to...

Age at interview: 71
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 70
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 Well it was my daughter that noticed it first. I had banged myself a few times, you know, moving furniture and that but I thought nothing of it because you bang your leg at my age, it takes a long while for it to go away, as it were, and she noticed it. I was on the allotment. Luckily for me I was stripped to the waist. It was a beautiful day. If it had been a very cold day, I would’ve been sat in the greenhouse and she wouldn’t have seen it.

 
So, when your daughter said to you “what’s wrong with your breast?” Did you… how soon after that was it, that you made your appointment for your GP?
 
Well, it’s like I say, we call her the Rotweiler. That was on the Sunday when she noticed it and she started ringing up on the Monday. “Have you been to the doctors?” So eventually I gave in and I went on the Thursday, so that was the following Thursday when I went and he gave me the usual course of antibiotics and that and then when I went back as instructed, I had to keep the daughter off my neck. I was asked if I’d have a second opinion. And as I say, I thought because there was about eleven doctors there, he’d just go and knock on another door and say, “when you’ve got a minute can you come in here and have a look at this”, and it wasn’t. It was… “Oh, we’ll write to you in a couple of days” and I say, I got the first appointment on the 20 October. Well it’s not a long time.
 
So, was that soon after…? How long was that from seeing your doctor, then?
 
… It was probably… the course of tablets I think would last about ten days, so that would take me to the end of September, but, well… at least the end of September because it was about 25th when I went to see her Yeah, it would be about a fortnight I think, something like that.
 
Right, so it wasn’t long?
 
It… no I was absolutely amazed at the speed with which things were done. 
However, some of the men did not wait or need encouragement from other people to go to the doctor. They went to see their GP as soon as they could after they noticed their breast symptoms.
 

Alan saw his inverted nipple while on a cruise. He thought there was no point seeing the ship's...

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Alan saw his inverted nipple while on a cruise. He thought there was no point seeing the ship's...

Age at interview: 73
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 71
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 Well I had no idea I had got anything wrong with me. I was fit as a lark to ice skating, gym, we were on holiday and Caribbean cruise. And we had a balcony, and I came off the balcony, I was in shorts obviously, and there was fortunately a mirror in front of me and I thought, that’s a bit odd. Anyway, first examination was, the nipple was inverted.

 
Oh right.
 
So I was five thousand miles from civilisation so I said nothing. Got home I said right, I need to see the doctor. And this is the thing that was quite- I’m sure it happens to most fellows, the wife had cancer I didn’t, if you know what I mean. She was absolutely devastated when I said I was going to see the doctor. That seeing the [name of GP] was the difficult bit, takes you about ten, twelve days to see our medical profession. Once I saw her and she picked me up at the appointment with [name of hospital] which is the main cancer hospital, I sort of saw him on the Thursday, I think a fortnight later I was in, had the op. No, sorry- I saw him and then I had several scans, I had a CT scan, a bone scan, don’t think I had any more. Anyway, then I had the operation.
 
You were on holiday when you found the lump. Did you say to your wife then that you’ve found it?
 
Oh no, oh no [laughs]. There was no point. Cause I mean I knew she would be concerned, as obviously- if it was the same with her. So I thought well there’s no point, I can’t do anything about it. I mean there’s a ship’s doctor but I mean, there’s no point. So I waited until we got home which would have been about a week later. So I mean the problem I had was I don’t know how long I’d had it. And I could have had it for a couple of years. I’ve no idea. In fact when I went to have the tests in the hospital, when I went to the doctor’s, she wasn’t quite sure whether there was a lump there. You could sort of just feel something, it wasn’t until they went to the- punched a needle through and did a, a mammogram which was quite fun [laughs]. That’s how they found there was a lump there. And they took it from there.
 
So once you had seen the doctor it was ten, twelve days?
 
Something like that, yes.
 
And how long then was it till your referral to the hospital?
 
Oh, about a week. It was very quick, very quick.
 
So your GP recognised there might be something there, she wasn’t sure and just ..
 
Because the nipple was inverted you see, I mean there was a distinct difference if you know, men – So it’s obviously, I mean when you actually read the literature it’s a classic sign of breast cancer, in men, isn’t it?
 

When Bill’s wife noticed a lump on his chest, he went to his GP. He felt anxious waiting to hear...

When Bill’s wife noticed a lump on his chest, he went to his GP. He felt anxious waiting to hear...

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 46
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 I remember it very vividly of course. It was the weekend of the Mayday holiday and, it wasn’t me that found the lump it was my wife who… she ran her hand over my chest and found this lump. And I always remember being immediately worried about it, because I hadn’t noticed it of course. So the doctor was closed on Monday. And I went into work on Tuesday and phoned the doctor for an appointment, and went from work on that Tuesday to the doctor. And he examined me and did indeed find a lump and he didn’t seem too worried about it. And he said he would refer me to the hospital. That was fine. I left, the doctor, I didn’t go back to work I don’t think that day. Anyway the next day I spoke to a lady who had breast cancer, and asked about her experience and she told me. And eh, she said that things were really good in [area] because they did this one step clinic for people with lumps on their chest. But that- turned out only to be for women, actually. And anyway, in the interim between me going to the hospital and finding out about this lump, I became really worried about it, and I have to say in my mind it was growing all the time. And then more symptoms appeared, because I began to have this real itch in both nipples. And this lump just to the inside of one. And, I went back to the doctor, I saw a different person, who did tell me I’d been referred to the surgical clinic at the hospital, and, she told me she thought I might better stay off work, in the interim.

Several men didn’t make a special trip to the doctor about their breast symptoms; they only brought their symptoms to the doctor’s notice whilst they were seeing a nurse or a doctor for something else, typically quite some time after they first noticed their symptoms.
 

HGV King noticed his inverted nipple about six months before a medical for work. It was painless...

HGV King noticed his inverted nipple about six months before a medical for work. It was painless...

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 50
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 When did you first… can you remember the very first time you found the lump…?

 
I didn’t have a lump.
 
… or your inverted nipple?
 
I had an inverted nipple…
 
Right.
 
I found it, obviously six, seven months beforehand.
 
Right, were you in a shower, getting dried…?
 
Yeah, when I was showering.
 
Just showering.
 
And I looked down and saw it inverted and all I just kept trying to do was prise it back out again. I didn’t nothing of it, because it’s painless. There was no lump, it was just an inverted nipple.
 
That was all you had?
 
That was all I had. The lump was about an inch or so away from the nipple.
 
Right, so when did the lump appear, then?
 
It didn’t.
 
You just didn’t feel it?
 
I didn’t feel it.
 
It wasn’t till they did the investigations?
 
Yeah, and then I spotted in on that monitor. That’s how I saw a little white dot and as I say, two centimetres. It wasn’t that big. I’ve seen on the internet that people get a lot bigger than two centimetres, so I was lucky, but that’s where it should be put out there to men, for men to understand that they can get this because I was lucky because I had that medical, which is five-yearly. Now, if I’d have had that lump or that inverted nipple which I wouldn’t go to the doctors with because it was painless, it didn’t hurt me, and I wouldn’t have gone. So, I could’ve gone three years, four years down the line.
 
So did you know that men could get breast cancer?
 
No, not at the time.
 

Robert was concerned about a small mole-like lump but was unsure about seeing a doctor. He showed...

Robert was concerned about a small mole-like lump but was unsure about seeing a doctor. He showed...

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 70
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Well, you know, I’m actually quite health conscious, you know? I do a lot of walking and so on, and I decided I’d volunteer to get my cholesterol checked right, and it was a wee bit high and I was sort of back and forth – and I noticed I had just a wee sort of growth under my nipple. Just a small one. When I was at the nurse for my cholesterol. I said to her, “You know do you think I should see the GP about that?” And she sort of had a wee bit of, “I think you should,” she says. So I went to the GP, and he looked at it and he said, “I’m not worried about that at all, but,” he says, “I think your breast’s a wee bit swollen,” he says. “I think I’ll send you to the breast clinic.” I went, “what?” you know really? And to make matters worse, I’m very friendly with [name of friend] in the [hospital]– he’s just retired from the breast clinic. I said, “[name of friend], I have to go to your breast clinic you know.” “Why?,” he says. I said, “Well, the GP said I’ve got a wee swelling.” “Aye,” he says, “I’m sure you’ve nothing to worry about. There’s not many, you know, male breast cancers about,” you know? But he couldn’t have been more wrong you know. So full marks to the GP. And full marks to the health service – they were very good to me. I went from the time I went to the GP and got referred, and my consultation in the outpatient was only about two weeks, and they tested it there and then. And the other thing was, too, it was a Saturday morning I went for this test, and the doctor that was running the test, I knew him as well, you know? And he says, “What are you here for?” And I told him.” Oh, I’m sure you’ve nothing to worry about.” But he actually ran the test, you know? So I’d too many friends at court, I think – so the consultant told me there and then that I had breast cancer.
 
So I was very, very fortunate. If I hadn’t been that I was getting my cholesterol checked, I probably wouldn’t have gone you know to the doctor for it – until it became really, you know, evident you know. So I was really fortunate that way, that they got it very quickly you know.
 
Was it a spot, or was it a lump?
 
It was a wee sort of growth – almost like a wee wart, that sort of thing.
 
On the skin?
 
Yes, just under the nipple, below the nipple, just on the skin.
 
Right.
 
It had been there for a wee while, and I thought, I wonder if I should go and see about that, you know? And the fact, I probably wouldn’t have gone just for that, but the fact I was going for something else gave me the opportunity, you know?
 
Yeah, to go along.
 
So the GP, good on him for spotting it, you know?
 
It was actually a good few months I’d been looking at this, you know, and I’m saying, “I wonder if I should be asking about it.” I was just a wee bit concerned about that, and then the fact that I was getting my cholesterol checked, I thought, “Ah, this is a good,” and I said to [my wife] – “Do you think I should let the nurse see that?” And she said, “Yeah”, and she had a look at it and I said, “Do you think I should get the GP to look at that?” And she said, “Yeah, I think so.”
 
Yeah – so did you mention that you had this to your wife previous?
 
No.
 

Derek mentioned the itchiness that had developed in his nipple whilst seeing his doctor for...

Derek mentioned the itchiness that had developed in his nipple whilst seeing his doctor for...

Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 68
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Well yeah I mean it was, it was so unusual in actual fact I mean I didn’t even have an inkling of anything and I was going to the doctors, ‘cos I’ve got a breathing problem, and I’d gone to him for that, and whilst we were there I said to him, “This is a bit embarrassing but...” I said, “my nipple itches”. So, and I said, “It doesn’t seem natural”. So, I mean he immediately said, “Well you realise men can get breast cancer?” So I said, “Well, yes and no” sort of thing. So he said, “I think we ought to do a biopsy”. So within a fortnight he organised for me to go and have a biopsy and a week after that they called me and said, “Yes it was definitely positive”. So, then they wanted to organise the operation but unfortunately because of my breathing they wouldn’t allow me to take the anaesthetic, so I had to wait for three months.

 
You said that you’d mentioned the itchiness you’d had in the nipple when you went to see your GP about breathing problems, had, how long had you had that itchiness for…?
 
Actually not a tremendous length of time probably only a month or so, but you know what it is when you’ve some… you know if you go to the doctor and you’re talking about something else then you suddenly think ‘Oh I might as well ask him about this whilst I’m here’, and that was sort of basically how it really came up. I mean, I forget what it was that I actually went to him for, varicose veins or something or other like that, and, as I say, I was actually just coming away and I sort of said, “Well you know this”, and then he sort of had a look at it, and, I mean he couldn’t feel anything at all, but he said “well to be on the safe side we’ll take, you know, we’ll arrange to have a biopsy done”, which you know, I mean that was the progression with the thing then.
 
Sounds like he was very on the ball then?
 
Well yeah I like to think so, I mean you know, it, it is a nice practice and I mean, I’ve been going to him for quite a few years now, that, I think it’s nice when you actually do get to be sort of, well not necessarily friendly but, at least a bit more familiar with doctors, you know, I don’t, I mean there’s some doctors in the practice that I, you know I’ve never seen, but, I, so I generally if I’m going in for anything I always ask to see him you know. So, yeah he is quite good, although he’s not…, I don’t know, in his 50s I suppose… But eh, you know it’s not as though he’s a, a young one just… (laugh) but, he’s very with it, you know.
 
Mostly, GPs had immediately taken the men’s symptoms seriously and responded by referring the men to a hospital outpatient appointment for a specialist opinion and further tests.
 

Roy’s doctor said he was ‘very worried’ when he showed him his breast lump and he acted...

Roy’s doctor said he was ‘very worried’ when he showed him his breast lump and he acted...

Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 65
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Well, I was on holiday in Scotland. I was fishing, and I felt a lump on me right breast, just right above the nipple. Really didn’t take much notice, coz I didn’t, obviously didn’t know that men suffered from breast cancer. I didn’t have a clue that men suffered from breast cancer, you know? But when I came back off holiday and me wife sort of said, “You’d better go and see the doctor,” which I did, he sort of, he never said what it was, but with his reaction, I virtually knew what it was, you know? But I left the doctor’s and came home. By the time I got home, [place name] Breast Unit was actually on the phone to me wife, asking me to go over to see them – so he got straight on, within half an hour of finding, you know, me going to see him. Within half an hour, he’d been on to the breast unit and they’d got straight back on to me, obviously to go for some tests, which I did. I had a mammogram, which is very uncomfortable.

 
So that was just the very first time you’d noticed it, and as you say, you came back down from your holiday and went straight along to the GP?
 
When I come back down, I went to the GP – but apparently it was a good job I did, lucky I did. It was really lucky I did.
 
Good. And so you said your GP obviously responded really quickly?
 
Straight away (clicks finger), yeah.
 
Yeah?
 
He must, as I walked out…
 
So he must have known that men could get breast cancer, then?
 
He knew what it was. He knew what it was – coz he said to me, when I went in there, I knew, I could see the change in him, you know? And I said, “Oh, I’ve got a lump,” and he said, “Oh, whereabouts?” I said, “On me breast,” so he said, “Oh, let’s have a look.” So he was feeling it, and I could, and he said, “Are you worried about this?” And I said, “No, not really.” So I said, “It’s just everybody said I should come and see you with it, you know?” He said, “I’m worried about it, very worried,” he said.
 
So that was his immediate response?
 
That was his immediate reaction, yeah. So he said, “Look, go home,” he said, “You will be hearing from me fairly shortly.” Well, it took me twenty minutes to drive from the doctor’s to here. I pulled up in the car and me wife’s come running to the door with the phone. She said, “Quick, [name] Breast Hospital are on the phone.” Well, I run me own business and everything, and I had done some work for the [name] Breast Hospital. They put all the new drains in for the radiation unit.
 
So you knew it well, then?
 
Well, yeah – but I thought, “Oh, they’ve got some more work for me,” you know? Coz we had JCBs and stuff like that for digging trenches. I thought, oh, they might have some more work for me. And they said, I knew, when anybody calls me [name], I know it’s the National Health Service, coz everybody else calls me Roy. You know? So he said, “?” I said, “Yeah?” He said, “Just had a call from Dr – you’ve got a lump in your breast. We need to see you urgent.” So I said, “Alright. When can you, you know?” “Any time you like. You name it and I’ll come,” you know? So they said, “Right, come on Monday,” which I think was a couple of days away. So straight away, I went over, and I’m sitting there, and I’m thinking, well, this is strange – it’s all women. There’s all these women there, and they’re all saying to me wife, “Have you had yours done yet? Or you waiting to go in?” And she said, “No, it’s him.” 

Sometimes the doctor had given an indication that he or she thought that something might be wrong, whilst other times they suggested getting a test to be ‘on the safe side’. In just a few cases, men had had to argue with their doctor that they needed a hospital appointment to check whether there was something seriously wrong.
 

Eddie noticed a lump when he was 12 but didn’t mention it to anyone. A biopsy in his 40s proved...

Eddie noticed a lump when he was 12 but didn’t mention it to anyone. A biopsy in his 40s proved...

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 69
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That in actual fact, surprisingly enough I did have what I consider to be a lump, in my left breast, which I noticed at the age of about twelve or thirteen. At this particular stage it didn’t mean very much of course but although I distinctly even now, at the age of seventy, I actually remember that it seemed to be rather unusual. But of course, that particular notion was sort of kicked into touch straight away. There wasn’t anything- I mean I was twelve or thirteen, I had no knowledge of things like cancer and that sort of thing.
 
Did you speak to anybody about that at the time?
 
No I didn’t, I didn’t in actual fact.
 
Not to your parents or-
 
No I didn’t in actual fact, that is a bit of a surprise but I don’t- I’m not aware that I did. And I may have, but I’m not aware at this particular junction that I did. Then we basically, we fast-track to the 1980s, I can’t give you an exact date, but in the 1980s, I needed to go and see the doc- my GP as something quite minor, and thought that I would bring the matter up because the lump appeared to be a lot larger than it had been when I was a young teenager. Not to any great extent but to- a little bit. It seemed to be a little bit larger.
 
So you would’ve been in your late forties or so at that kind of time?
 
I was in my mid-forties at the time. So, I went along to the GP and whilst I was there I sort of asked him if he- I consulted him in relation to the lump and he said, I think it might be a good idea to send you for a biopsy. I went for a biopsy, probably I think about two or three weeks later, but in consequence it all came back clear. I remember when I had the biopsy the doctor, who just happened to be my own doctor on a private visit to the hospital I was at. So I actually- he said, “Now Eddie for goodness sakes don’t start screaming. Women go through this without having- without showing any sign of pain at all, now I don’t expect you to”. It was just one of those things. Anyway, it turns out that it was clear. But there again why shouldn’t it have been, because I wasn’t aware of any breast cancer being involved with men at all.
 
And so they didn’t mention that as a possibility at the time.
 
They didn’t in actual fact, no, no. So that was in the 1980s, or the mid 1980s and then, again we fast track right the way up to 2008, when we had by that time, it had been a year living in [area] we were then living in London [area] And as a consequence, again visiting my GP, I thought I would have another word and see what he thought.
 
So the lump had remained there throughout?
 
Yes, the lump stayed there and what have you. And fortunately it was decided - I’ve got to say that it was both our decisions that it wasn’t necessary to go along- which perhaps now looking back, I don’t blame him or anything like that, but perhaps we- he- perhaps he should’ve insisted, that I did go for a biopsy. So that was the end of 2008 and again we fast track to April 2009, when- I must admit, I didn’t do anything about it for a couple or two or three weeks, I started getting a stinging sensation around the lump. And so I went back in on this particular occasion we both agreed and to make the point, in actual fact we insisted really on having a biopsy.
 
When you say, that we insisted, was that you and- ?
 
Myself and the GP. I virtually- we were- he was a little bit iffy about it and I thought to myself, well no this time we go for it.
 

Tom went to the doctor straight away, fearing that his lump might be breast cancer. The locum GP...

Tom went to the doctor straight away, fearing that his lump might be breast cancer. The locum GP...

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 50
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So anyway I rang up my GP surgery the same day because I was very aware that if this was breast cancer I needed to do something about it straight away. And I suppose I - as you know, I've written about this. And I suppose now thinking about it, again with the benefit of hindsight, my intention in going to the GP was really for that GP to give me a referral to a hospital where I could have some sort of intervention that would explore what the problem was. I didn't expect my GP to be able to deal with it on their own. I hoped to be able to see a GP at my local surgery that I was familiar with but in fact that wasn't possible, and so I saw someone who worked part-time there, a female GP. And this was the first time that I'd met with her before. Although again, as I said in something that I've written, presumably she had access to notes. She knew I was a man of fifty presenting with a lump in his chest, she said something like ‘I'll give you antibiotics to see if it will go down’ - that's a quote. And I thought this was a bad way of proceeding.


And I was really quite insistent about having an urgent referral. And - I think this is probably a pretty unusual situation for her, I suspect it's a rather unusual situation for most GPs to be faced with someone - of course I suppose if I had been speaking with one of my, one of the two GPs I more regularly see, then they would have known me far better, and known that I'm an academic interested in these sort of areas. But she - all she had were my notes, which I daresay she'd scanned in a rather cursory way, here was I you know fifty year old man presenting something, median onset for breast cancer for men is much older than fifty, the chances of me - quite possibly she'd never seen male breast cancer before. I'm not sure I knew those figures at the time. I now know them. But that was me trying to do a post-hoc rationalisation of what went on, and trying to write about it I suppose. But what happened was a sort of conflict situation which was not heated, it was very cool, but I was very insistent, and I remember there was a sort of extended pause of silence during which she was sort of looking down at her notes as though trying to decide what to do. And I remember saying, ‘Well, what do you propose?’ At that point she just capitulated, and said, ‘Fine, I'll give you an urgent referral’. And she didn't seem particularly happy about it, but I was just very insistent, and I think just sort of relieved that I'd got my way. Because, I don't think it was a sort of macho thing – you know I - I don't generally talk to my GPs in this way, usually we have a sort of civil conversation and say, ‘Well what shall we do?’
 
Is that because you felt inside yourself sort of sufficiently concerned or sure, or something that really was the matter?
 
Well obviously I couldn't be sure that it was cancer, but I knew enough about cancer to know that an urgent intervention would be needed if it was cancer, and therefore it seemed to me to make sense to have some sort of diagnostic procedure that would allow me to know one way or the other.
 

When Derek told his GP something ‘wasn’t right’ with his right breast, the GP dismissed it. Derek...

When Derek told his GP something ‘wasn’t right’ with his right breast, the GP dismissed it. Derek...

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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 Say it was about 2001 approximately, about eight years ago I was… first diagnosed. I didn’t personally notice. I had sort of a… something I felt wasn’t right on me right bust and me wife then says, you know, I should go to see somebody. Before that I had, I was on warfarin then, a blood clot, and I think that’s where it really came from. When I was discharged the doctor there says, yeah, cos he had it in me notes that I’ve got an irritation on me bust and he had a look at it and he suggested that I should go to seek, seek medication, you know, which I did do, and I went with me wife to see about this. The doctor says it was nothing to be concerned about. They wouldn’t believe me at all. This was going on for quite some time. In the end me wife did come with me and she really had it out with him and it basically boiled down to, “What if it had been me as a woman coming to see you, what would you had have sent me for?” What do you call it, the word, I can’t remember the word…

 
Biopsy? Mammogram?
 
No, no, where they put, they press it together.
 
Yeah, the mammogram.
 
The mammogram. He said, “I’d have sent you for one of those [mammogram]". And she said "why can’t you send him?” He says, “Well, just wasting people’s time”. That’s what he basically said, but it did come that he did send me, he sent me for an x-ray first and nothing showed up on that, which I found out they don’t show on an x-ray anyway. And then we did eventually get sent down to [name of hospital] where I did have that and it was found then that I did have breast cancer and it was right behind the nipple, on the right hand side, and they did take a biopsy which obviously they went in with a little camera at the side of me. My wife was with me all the time from that moment onwards and… the biopsy showed that there was a cancer there and then from then on they took me into a room and told me that that verbally, you know, I did have breast cancer and they needed to treat it ASAP which they did, really.
 
You said that you had problems with the warfarin and then that doctor said you need to see your GP about this change in your breast?
 
Yeah.
 
Did you alert him to that change in your breast?
 
I didn’t… it wasn’t something that… how can I put it? There was a change. The wife said me nipple was…
 
Inverted?
 
Which I couldn’t really see. My wife was 101%, you know, in what she did with me, yeah. I can’t… yeah. It was from then that we sort of, with her saying, “You must go and see somebody,” and so I went down to the doctors where I went [inaudible] what that was.
 
So from you first noticing this change or your wife noticing, how long was it until you actually got seen?
 
To go to… maybe three weeks, maybe something like that.
 
OK.
 
It wasn’t that long, wasn’t that long. Once we got to know, I got to, they sent me down for the mammogram, from there it was like wow.
 
OK. So you just persevered with your GP?
 
Yeah.
 
You just kept going back to him?
 
Yes, oh yes, yes. I was going, I’m one of these that I don’t listen to what they say, you know, and my wife just says I’ll come with you and then… which I was glad she came. She was there the whole time. Everywhere I went, she came with me because she could ask, she wanted to know what the T’s were and dot the I’s when I was man to man doctor he was saying “oh yeah, we’ll talk about other things other than what you’ve gone for”, you know, basically.


Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated October 2013. Donate to healthtalk.org
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