How We Can Increase Awareness Of Male Breast Cancer

It has been mentioned in previous posts that there is limited awareness about the fact that men can get breast cancer, and that this limits the options men have for support. It only makes sense for us to consider how we in the medical community, as well as society in general, can do a better job of this – raising the profile for male breast cancer patients and survivors. Bill Rotter, patient advocate and a breast cancer survivor, discussed the “pinkness” of breast cancer awareness in his post earlier this week. He commented that his struggle with participating in breast cancer fundraising and awareness events is that “everything is pink” and focused on women. This became a greater challenge when Bill was asked to participate in a fashion show fundraiser; he respectfully declined because he “…didn’t feel comfortable being a model among mostly women.”

In my previous job as a clinical genetic counselor, I also encountered several situations where men with breast cancer were not appropriately recognized. I often had male patients who indicated that they were called as “Ms. X” in the waiting room and other male patients who were wrapped with pink tape following surgery and offered a bra. At the time, these stories made me and my patients find the humor and laugh; however, when I reflect back, I realize that these are examples that let us know that there is a lot of room for change and improvement. Below are some of my personal suggestions of how healthcare providers and the public may be able to raise the profile for men with breast cancer and better support them.

  1. Confirm the gender of your patient before calling them in the waiting room. Don’t assume that just because you work in a breast cancer clinic, your patient will be a female.
  2. Stock your waiting room with materials for men. Add these to the mix so the reading choices aren’t solely geared towards women.
  3. Don’t be afraid to have an open conversation with your male patients about things that may make them uncomfortable. Dr. Robina Smith suggested asking how they feel about the color pink in her earlier post. You can start there and ask more, like how they feel about someone suggesting that they wear a bra. Work with them to figure out a solution that makes them more comfortable.
  4. Actively help to spread the word about male breast cancer. It is a common misconception that men cannot get breast cancer, so that’s a great place to start the conversation.

Here are some ideas for breast cancer supporters to consider:

  1. Don’t assume that a male at a breast cancer fundraiser is there to support a woman who has been diagnosed. Remember to ask if he is a survivor or a patient, and support him as you would a woman with breast cancer.
  2. If you are hosting or part of a breast cancer event or fundraiser, consider having a different shirt or hat for men, which could be in a different color. This way, those that are not fans of the color are not “forced” to wear and display pink.
  3. Make an extra effort to recognize men who have had breast cancer. As we’ve discussed, women are automatically being recognized for this.
  4. As Bill suggested, consider that it may be time to “rethink pink.” We may need a new ribbon color specifically for male breast cancer.

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