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Male breast cancer: A survivor works to remove the ‘shame and stigma’

When most people hear “breast cancer,” they instantly think of women.

Yet the Canadian Cancer Society had estimated that during 2023, there would be 260 cases diagnosed in men.

Women and men who have breast cancer have very different experiences due to the differences in their bodies, body chemistry and social-emotional effects of the disease. For example, one patient said he was able to find countless support groups for women and survivors willing to share their stories, but none for men.

Brian Lynch, currently a patient of the London Regional Cancer Program at London Health Sciences Centre, is trying to break the silence for male breast cancer.

“This is not to take away from the experiences of women with breast cancer,” Lynch says. “I think the reason why there isn’t that visibility around men who have breast cancer is because of shame and stigma that men feel having a disease that is largely attributed to women. I want to help create a space for men so the experience of having breast cancer isn’t so lonely.”

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One evening, around 2020, he noticed his nipple was flat and inverted. Over the span of a couple months, it became increasingly swollen and red, and burned when touched. Finally, in 2021, Lynch discovered a hard, pea-sized lump under his right breast.

This prompted him to make a doctor’s appointment, which led to him being sent for a mammogram at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH), then an ultrasound and a biopsy.

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Shortly after, he was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in his right breast. This is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for approximately 75 to 80 per cent of cases.

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Men also carry the BRCA gene mutation, which can make them susceptible to developing breast cancer. BRCA genes act like babysitters for cells, but when they mutate, they don’t do their job. As a result, changes that often would have been fixed by the BCRA genes lead to things like cancer since nothing is stopping the cells from multiplying however they want.

“There are many men out there whose female relatives have had breast cancer and don’t know they might have the BRCA gene mutation, too,” Lynch says. “Who is making these men aware they are susceptible to breast cancer just like the women in their family?”

At STEGH, he had surgery to remove the cancer and had three months of preventative chemotherapy.

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There are no groups or supports for men with breast cancer. Though this made it difficult for Lynch during his treatment, it motivated him to be the voice for other survivors.

“I just wished that I had a man who had been through it to talk with,” Lynch says. “I thought, ‘OK, someone has got to do something about this.’ And guess who that someone turned out to be?”

Lynch took matters into his own hands. Since he finished his treatment in September 2021, Lynch has been advocating for more education, awareness and support for men diagnosed with breast cancer. By October 2021, Lynch had started the Bottoni Project, named for his surgeon and project partner, Dr. David Bottoni.

“Dr. Bottoni’s kindness, positivity, encouragement, advocacy and surgical skills saved my life,” Lynch says. “Dr. Bottoni is also a metaphor for all the amazing health-care providers, care givers, support workers, clerical staff and volunteers at STEGH who stood beside me in my sickness and recovery.”

Dr. Bottoni, an avid motorcyclist, created an annual charity ride called the Bottoni Ride to raise money for this campaign and raise awareness of male breast cancer in London.

Lynch is now cancer-free but continues to take medication as part of an ongoing preventative regime. Despite this, he continues to be an advocate for patients and continued research.

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“Hopefully they will hear that there is a voice out there and step forward,” Lynch says.

If you would like to learn more about Brian and his journey, check out his video on LHSC’s YouTube page.

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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