Former NSW Premier Nick Greiner’s “brave” revelation that he has undergone a mastectomy will help to break down the stigma around male breast cancer, the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) says.
Mr Greiner, who was premier from 1988 to 1992, revealed on Wednesday he had his left breast removed in April after being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.
The 67-year-old reportedly consulted a doctor after noticing a tiny red dot on his shirt last May, but then took several months to have a mammogram and biopsy that confirmed the diagnosis.
NBCF’s director of research and investment, Alison Butt, said Mr Greiner’s high profile disclosure put a focus on the disease, which only rarely impacted men.
“I think he’s very brave to come out and openly say that he has had breast cancer, I really think it puts the focus on a disease,” Dr Butt told AAP.
“Because of the statistics it’s something that we tend to associate with women and I think there is a bit of a stigma around male breast cancer.
“People may feel that somehow it’s a female disease and think ‘why am I getting it?'”
Male breast cancer is very rare, with only around 125 cases diagnosed in Australia each year compared with about 14,000 cases in women.
Just one in 1000 men will contract breast cancer at some time in their life, compared with one-in-eight women.
Despite its rarity, Dr Butt said men should remain on the lookout for symptoms.
She said these included discharge from the nipple, any puckering or scarring around the nipple, and lumps “which are more noticeable in the male breast”.
A lack of awareness about the disease meant it often took longer for men to consult a doctor, Dr Butt said.
She said even in Mr Greiner’s case, the former premier waited several months to follow-up after his initial visit to the doctor.
“That might impact on the stage the cancer has reached when it’s diagnosed,” Dr Butt said.
According to Cancer Australia, most men diagnosed and treated for early breast cancer will not die from the disease.
Common treatment options for the disease include surgery as well as radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.
Cancer Council Australia chief executive, Ian Olver, said Mr Greiner was to be admired for telling his story.
“He may actually be responsible for a lot of men presenting earlier than they otherwise would have,” Professor Olver said.
He urged men to “get to know what your body’s like and if something changes, report it quickly”.
Mr Greiner is said to be now back at work, with a clean bill of health.
MALE BREAST CANCER IN AUSTRALIA:
*Around 125 cases a year compared with 14,000 for women
*Around 25 deaths a year, compared with 3000 for women
*Average age is 69
*85 per cent of patients survive five years or more
*Painless lump near nipple
*Discharge from nipple
*Change in nipple appearance
*Change or pain in breast
*Swollen glands under arm.
*Family history – BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
*High oestrogen caused by obesity or other conditions
*Radiotherapy in chest area.
Source: Cancer Council Australia