Remember the HBO classic, “Oz?” It was one of the network’s first weekly dramas and focused on the raucous ins-and-outs of the fictional Oswald Correctional Facility. One of the most fascinating storylines was Ryan O’Reilly’s. He was a violent and manipulative inmate who pitted his enemies against each other and sent his brother to the electric chair.
But what separated him from his fellow inmates weren’t his controversial antics; it was the lump he discovered in his breast in the second season. O’Reilly was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent aggressive treatment. “Oz” was the first television program that taught me that breast cancer was gender indiscriminate.
Men have a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetimes according to the BreastCancer.gov. The American Cancer Society reported that this year, there will 2,190 new cases of invasive breast cancer among men and about 410 men will die from it.
Actor Richard Roundtree, who is revered for his turn as John Shaft in 70s Blaxploitation flicks, is one of the fortunate survivors. He stumbled on a cancerous lump in his right breast in the 1970s. To combat the illness, he received a mastectomy before undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
However, most African American men aren’t as blessed. Researchers from Columbia University found that black men are:
- More likely to have later-stage disease and larger tumors than white men.
- 48 percent less likely to be referred to a medical oncologist.
- 56 percent less likely to receive chemotherapy.
- Less likely to survive five years. Among black men, survival is 66 percent compared to 90 percent of white male patients.
Despite Columbia’s disturbing findings, breast cancer isn’t a death sentence for all black men. Women are encouraged to perform monthly self-exams to ensure earliest detection. Men should perform this ritual as well according to the African American Breast Cancer Alliance. When conducting the exam, be sure to check for:
- Lumps in the chest, collarbone, nipples and underarms. This is often the first common symptom of breast cancer in men. The Columbia University study found that lumps usually appear right beneath the breast, so check that area regularly.
- Nipple discharge that has a foul odor or is filled with blood or pus.
- Unexpected skin changes, including painful rashes or tender spots near the breasts.
If any of these symptoms are present, seek assistance immediately to increase chances of developing a valiant strategy to combat the illness.
Breast cancer isn’t preventable. The Early Show’s health correspondent, Emily Senay, Ph.D., told CBS that “Preventing [breast cancer] really would require a much better understanding of what causes it. And we really don’t know yet what causes breast cancer.” However, several studies have discovered that a healthier lifestyle can stave off breast cancer. The African American Breast Cancer Alliance encourages black men to:
- Learn about their family’s cancer history.
- Reduce their alcohol and fat intake.
- Maintain a healthy body weight by following a nutritional diet and exercising regularly.
Above all else, fight the stigma that breast cancer is a woman’s disease. That is the first step in increasing awareness of the illness among black men.