‘Although breast cancer is seen as a predominantly female disease, it affects men too’

Graeme Comrie, is a man who survived breast cancer. Photo: Supplied.

Graeme Comrie, is a man who survived breast cancer. Photo: Supplied.

Published Jun 10, 2023


June is marked as Men’s Health Month, and on the fourth of this month it was Cancer Survivors Day to celebrate the strength, resilience, and triumph of individuals who have overcome cancer.

One such person is Graeme Comrie, a man who survived breast cancer, something that most men believe they are immune to.

Comrie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, something he said came as a shock to him for several reasons, because he lead a healthy lifestyle and he did his medical check-ups regularly.

He said that as a male, he never thought he could be diagnosed with breast cancer.

"One day I discovered a small lump in my left upper breast, but I didn’t think much of it. I did not do anything about it for about two years  until my doctor suggested that I have it tested. I took her advice, and the results came back positive—I had breast cancer," he said.

The doctors were able to remove the cancer surgically, and Comrie now lives to tell the tale.

"14 years later, I am still cancer-free. I am incredibly grateful that surgery and treatment worked," said Comrie.

Specialist surgeon, Dr Fatima Hoosain said that although breast cancer is seen as a predominantly female disease, it affects men too.

"The risk is low, particularly in comparison to other common cancers. The National Cancer Registry states that the life-time risk of suffering breast cancer in males is between 1 in 500 and 1 in 1000, depending on race. Men at any age may develop breast cancer, but it is usually detected in men between 60 and 80 years of age," said Hoosain.

Hoosain said the prognosis is slightly poorer for men than for women for a variety of reasons.

"Men are less likely to go to a doctor and therefore often present with advanced cancers. Anatomically, males have very little breast tissue; therefore, small tumours infiltrate early into the surrounding tissue and spread easily via the bloodstream and lymphatics to distant organs," she said.

She said the significance of early detection vastly improves the chances of surviving any type of cancer. Below, she addresses some of the most crucial facts about breast cancer in men.

"Men with breast cancer usually have a lump that can be felt, as in Comrie’s case. Men’s breasts are not usually as big as women's, and a mass is therefore more easily palpated by a man. Medically, a biopsy is performed in order to make a proper diagnosis. This involves the removal of cells or tissue fragments so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. It is usually done by taking a small core of tissue using a needle under local anaesthesia."

It is estimated that cancer-causing genetic abnormalities are at least 2–4 times more common in males with breast cancer than in females.

"Genetic testing has therefore become part of routine care for males with breast cancer. Other risk factors include exposure to radiation, having a disease related to high levels of oestrogen in the body, such as liver disease, or other genetic disorders," said Hoosain.

The treatment of breast cancer in both men and women are similar and they  includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapy.