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Forget women, men too can suffer from breast cancer

February 10, 2020

Srinagar, Feb 9: “Men haven’t got breasts, they have chests,” Abdul Majid (name-changed), 60, an orchardist from South Kashmir tried to reason with the doctor when he was tested positive for cancer in his right breast.

Majid’s story dates back to 2019 when he noticed a lump in his right breast, which grew in size by the day.

However, it was only when bleeding happened he decided to consult a physician without telling his family.

As luck would have it, Majid’s doctor also did not pick up the warning sign either, and put him on a course of antibiotic.

“After taking antibiotics, the symptoms subsided temporarily but returned after almost a year. He again asked me to repeat the medicines. I changed my doctor when I developed pain in that area,” he said.

This time again, Majid felt reluctant to tell his wife about the pain and confided in a family friend who took him to an oncologist.

“I asked him to get a specialized test— Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC), done. The result was positive for cancer.  The biopsy also confirmed stage-II cancer that was spreading,” said Dr Ulfat Ara Wani, Medical Oncologist at Government Super Specialty Hospital Shireen Bagh.

The doctor noted that his frequent exposure to pesticide sprays was one of the contributing factors for his disease.

Similarly, Riyaz Ahmad, 59, found it difficult to accept that he suffered from the breast cancer after his results confirmed the disease.

“For me cancer meant death; so for a couple of hours after I saw the reports, I just sat silent without uttering a word. It was difficult to accept for me as I used to live a healthy lifestyle,” Riyaz said.

In Kashmir, it’s common misconception that only women are susceptible to breast cancer, when in fact, men can also suffer from the disease.

According to the official data released by the Regional Cancer Center, SKIMS, the total number of cancer patients reported in 2019 was 4,378.

However, this year alone, 335 patients are confirmed with malignancy so far.

An official of the SKIMS said wishing not be named said, “Unfortunately there is no epidemiological data on the breast cancer available at the hospital and neither have we kept a record of that.”

Dr Ulfat noted that even though cases of breast cancer among men comprise only around one per cent of the total cases, the risk of mortality is higher due to late diagnosis.

She said a major hurdle for early treatment in male breast cancer patients is a common misconception that the disease is limited to women.

Similar to women, breast cancer in men appears as a lump in the breast or armpits or there are changes in the skin around the nipple, as per the doctor.

A family history of breast cancer – in both men and women – is a strong risk factor, and lifestyle changes can also increase the chances of the disease.

 “When it comes to male breast cancer, one in five has a family history. Inherited mutations in certain genes confer a very high risk of breast cancer, especially the BRCA 2 gene which has a lifetime risk of about six in 100 men with breast cancer,” said a senior oncologist at SKIMS.

Oncologists suggested a regular check-up for men with a family history of breast cancer and those who observe lumps in the region.

“The breast malignancy campaigns should be organized on a mass scale to curb the incidence of this disease. Once people are fully aware, they won’t shy to report the signs and symptoms of the disease,” Dr Ulfat said.

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Hirra Azmat

When the world fails to make sense, Hirra Azmat seeks solace in words. Both worlds, literary and the physical lend color to her journalism.

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