The shock of breast cancer in men

The Bolton News: Stuart Webb sitting in a bath of custard to raise money for Cancer Research UK Stuart Webb sitting in a bath of custard to raise money for Cancer Research UK

WHEN Stuart Webb was told he had breast cancer, it came as the “biggest shock of his life”.

As a cardiac patient who had had 10 heart attacks and two strokes, it is fair to say Mr Webb had been dealt his share of health blows.

But nothing could prepare him for the diagnosis in 2005.

Mr Webb is one of just 350 men who are diagnosed with the potentially deadly disease every year in the UK.

This is less than one per cent of the 48,000 women annually diagnosed with breast cancer.

The 58-year-old, who was living in Essex at the time, found a lump on the left side of his chest.

Like many men, he did not realise he could get breast cancer.

Mr Webb, who now lives in St Helens Road, Daubhill, explained: “It had swollen up so much, it actually looked like a small breast. I thought it might be something to do with my hormones.

“After I went for all the check-ups the doctor sat me down and said: ‘I’m afraid to tell you that you’ve got breast cancer”.

“I just couldn’t believe it. I had never heard of men getting breast cancer before, so it was massive shock to me.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on men getting testicular or prostrate cancer, or breast cancer amongst women — but not men.

“It was a very strange thing to get my head round at the time.”

Luckily, doctors had caught the cancer in the very early stages, which meant Mr Webb stood a good chance of survival.

Surgeons operated immediately and removed the lump.

He was then given radiotherapy and put on Tamoxifen — a hormone therapy.

Like many brave cancer sufferers, he found a positive attitude was the best approach to beating the disease. Nine years later, Mr Webb is determined to raise awareness of breast cancer among men.

He said: “I was diagnosed when there was a lot of controversy about male breast cancer. I think a lot of men like me just don’t realise they can get it.

“That’s why I feel so strongly about raising awareness. There is so much fundraising for women’s breast cancer, but what about men?

“I wasn’t embarrassed at the time. I just got on with it. I’ve a lot of ups and downs with my health, so I just took the same approach and cracked on with getting better.”

Risk factors for breast cancer in men are not fully understood but it is thought the chances increase with age, if there is a family history of breast cancer, if men are exposed to high levels of radiation, are overweight or drink heavily over a sustained period.

Symptoms can include changes in the breast shape or size, a nipple turning in, bleeding or discharge from the nipple, a swelling or lump in the armpit or an ulcer on the skin of the breast.

Jane Ooi has been a breast surgeon at the Royal Bolton Hospital since 2006.

Mrs Ooi says although cases of breast cancer among males in Bolton are very rare, they should always be aware of any changes in their body.

She added: “I think a lot of men are simply not aware they can get breast cancer. The main difference between breast cancer in men and women is that men are at more risk when they are older, whereas it cuts across a younger age in among women.

“Yet the treatment remains the same. They still have mammograms, the same surgery and chemotherapy, should they need it.

“It can be very difficult for men who face a breast cancer diagnosis because it is so rare.

“They may feel embarrassed or shocked, but there is support available.”

Mrs Ooi also says if men find a lump, it is more likely to be Gynecomastia — a common condition where the breast tissue swells.

She added: “Gynecomastia is not serious but quite common, particularly among younger men or teenagers.

“It’s often related to lifestyle such as drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking cannabis.

“But if men do find a lump, they should always go to their GP first.”

Mr Webb, originally from Stalybridge, is now a freelance photographer and runs a sandwich shop, Buttylicious, in St Helens Road, Bolton, with his wife, Cath.

He recently sat in a bath of custard to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

He added: “My advice to other men is be aware that you can get it. Like with anywhere else on your body, if you find a lump get it checked out immediately.”

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