Former premier Nick Greiner may save the lives of other men with his revelation on Wednesday that he has had breast cancer, advocates say.
Men, and even their doctors treating them, will often ignore symptoms because they do not even realise breast cancer is an option. Rare in men, it is responsible for about 1 per cent of cases, with about 125 men diagnosed annually.
Mr Greiner had symptoms for months, even visiting his GP who did not pick it up, an experience echoed by many men. While some men do not find out until the cancer has spread, he underwent a mastectomy and now has a clean bill of health.
Mr Greiner’s former wife Kathryn said he was ”very lucky” after initially ignoring his symptoms.
”Like so many men would have, Nick dismissed the weeping nipple and the bloodstains on his shirt,” she said. ”It was easy to do because he wasn’t in any pain and it was very intermittent … but after about the fifth episode we thought there was something more to it.”
Cancer Council chief executive officer Ian Olver said this would be the first time many men realised they could get breast cancer.
But Australia was likely to see more cases as the population aged, as it was ”a disease of the late 60s”.
“In general, because there isn’t as much breast tissue in men, [breast] cancer might be more obvious early on,” he said. “But if you don’t think you can get breast cancer, you might not think about it.”
It is often unexplained but risk factors include having excess oestrogen, which can be caused by being overweight, or being exposed to chest radiation, according to a new Breast Cancer Network booklet Men Can Get Breast Cancer Too.
Symptoms include a small painless lump near the nipple, discharge or a change in the nipple shape.
Breast Cancer Network chief executive officer Maxine Morand commended Mr Greiner for speaking out.
”It makes a huge difference for people experiencing those symptoms to realise it might be breast cancer,” she said. “And it’s also a reminder for GPs.”
Robert Lawton, 71, survived breast cancer and long-term drug therapy to prevent its return.
”Almost all the cases I have known have involved slow diagnosis, and this sense of shame because it’s all about pink and women,” he said. Once, when he was giving a speech, an audience member heckled it was a ”sheila’s disease”.
When he first experienced his symptoms, he was told he had nothing to worry about by both his GP and a specialist, before seeking a third opinion from another GP.
”It was really my wife who pushed me, I was quite blase,” he said. ”By the time they diagnosed it they really had to hammer me … I had nine bouts of chemotherapy.”
The director of cancer services at St Vincent’s Clinical School, Allan Spigelman, said any man with breast cancer is worthy of referral to a hereditary cancer clinic.
”Male breast cancer can be a hallmark of a family where mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene – known to increase breast cancer risk – are likely to be found.’’