Breast Cancer: Breaking the Silence
many cancer activists, Bob Riter 78 became involved with the
disease after his own diagnosis. But his was not a typical battle
for a man. In 1996 Riter noticed a small lump under his left nipple.
wasnt too concernedI assumed it was a cyst that would
go away on its own, he says. About three weeks later,
I felt some wetness on my chest and realized that I was bleeding
from that nipple. A biopsy delivered a diagnosis that will
be received by an estimated 1,500 men this year: breast cancer.
men with breast cancer do not have such visually obvious symptoms.
Many simply feel a painless lump directly behind the nipple, the
only area of breast tissue on the male body. Women, with more breast
tissue, are likely to find cancerous lumps in other areas, but beyond
this, the disease is essentially the same for both genders.
cause of breast cancer in either sex is still largely unknown, but
there are factors that put some men at higher risk: a family history
of breast cancer, exposure to radiation, gynecomastia (male breast
enlargement), or high estrogen levels.
underwent a modified radical mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy.
Treatment is similar for men and women, although Riter admits that
the psychological baggage of a mastectomy is often less severe for
a male. Still, the labeling of breast cancer as a womans
disease can evoke feelings of shame and silence for its male
Riter has taken the opposite route, becoming instead a cancer advocate
who is open about his own diagnosis. In 1997 he began volunteering
at the Ithaca, New York, Breast Cancer Alliance, where he serves
as associate director. Although very little of his work is specific
to male cancer, he raises awareness by telling his own story.
make it a point to attend as many national breast cancer meetings
as possible, he says. I do this in large part to be
a face that people can associate with male breast cancer. Its
important for me to be at the tableboth figuratively and literallywhen
breast cancer issues are discussed.
Riter says he has been warmly received by female breast cancer activists.
At first, people might have categorized me as a man with breast
cancer. Over time, I think that Ive been accepted as a breast
cancer advocate who happens to be a man.
more information, visit www.ibca.net/malebreastcancer.html.