Brothers and Breast Cancer: What Black Men Need to Know
Posted 10/8/2013 12:06:00 PM

When Richard Roundtree was diagnosed with cancer in 1993, he was bowled over. "The doctor told me, 'You have breast cancer,'" recalls Roundtree, who played John Shaft in the iconic 1971 film "Shaft." I heard the cancer part first -- it was only later that I heard the breast part. I couldn't believe it." Roundtree found the lump while filming a movie in Costa Rica. "It just didn't feel right," he says. "I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, so I decided to get it checked out when I was back in L.A."  For years after his diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, Roundtree kept quiet about his status as a cancer survivor. “I was in the closet, so to speak, until after the fifth year when I was cancer free," he says. (From


Yes, this month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we have to focus on our women. Women of color are particularly at risk to be diagnosed later thus reducing chances of survival. Breast cancer will take the lives of an estimated 6,080 black women in the U.S. in 2013, according to the American Cancer Society.  One in three will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Early detection is key – that’s why self-exams are so crucial! You find anything? Get to a doctor and insist they not ignore your concerns. I know a woman who had a lump and they told her they would look at it again in 6 months. She insisted they further investigate and thank God she did – a cancerous tumor was found. Aside early detection, tips to help reduce breast cancer risk includes avoiding weight gain/obesity, regular physical activity; minimize alcohol intake, healthy diet and not smoking.  Yet still, we must address the issue of breast cancer in men.  Richard Roundtree is a survivor…but what about those who are not?

Breast cancer. It can and does happen and with black men and early detection is just as urgent for them as women. Men have a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing breast cancer but researchers from Columbia University found that black men are more likely to have later-stage disease and larger tumors. Also, 48 percent are less likely to be referred to a medical oncologist, and the worst part? Black men are less likely to survive five years after a diagnosis. The survival is 66 percent compared to 90 percent of white male patients. While we women must perform monthly self-exams, men should, too. The African American Breast Cancer Alliance says men should look for lumps in the pecs, chest, collarbone, nipples, torso, or underarms. Another warning sign is discharge or fluid from the nipples that is bloody, clear, pus-like, or smells bad. And be aware of skin changes that are bumpy, dark, different color, itchy, painful, rash-like, puckered, redness, sores/ulcer, shrunken, swollen, or tender. Any of the aforementioned signs should be looked at by a doctor right away. And like their female counterparts, to cut risks men should reduce their alcohol and fat intake, have a healthy body weight and exercise regularly. The Mayo Clinic further details what could increase the chance of a man getting breast cancer. Risk factors are:

Older age. Breast cancer is most common in men ages 60 to 70.

Exposure to estrogen. If you take estrogen-related drugs, such as those used as part of a sex-change procedure, your risk of breast cancer is increased. Estrogen drugs may also be used in hormone therapy for prostate cancer.

Family history of breast cancer. If you have a close family member with breast cancer, you have a greater chance of developing the disease.

Klinefelter's syndrome. This genetic syndrome occurs when a boy is born with more than one copy of the X chromosome. Klinefelter's syndrome causes abnormal development of the testicles. As a result, men with this syndrome produce lower levels of certain male hormones (androgens) and more female hormones (estrogens).

Liver disease. If you have liver disease, such as cirrhosis of the liver, your male hormones may be reduced and your female hormones may be increased. This can increase your risk of breast cancer.

Obesity. Obesity may be a risk factor for breast cancer in men because it increases the number of fat cells in the body. Fat cells convert androgens into estrogen, which may increase the amount of estrogen in your body and, therefore, your risk of breast cancer.

Radiation exposure. If you've received radiation treatments to your chest, such as those used to treat cancers in the chest, you're more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.

We have to enforce early detection is key in fighting breast cancer – for women and men. As a people, we also must work to end the stigma that breast cancer is a woman’s disease. Education and awareness are empowerment tools to decrease the risk and increase survival rates for our brothers by this disease.

Posted By: Julee Jonez  

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