Male breast cancer not discussed often, but survivor seeks inclusion

Bret Miller and his mother, Peggy Miller, are hard at work making sure men receive inclusion in the world of breast cancer after Bret went through breast cancer at the age of 24.

While October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the third week in October is officially known as Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week. Several states are starting to recognize the week, and for one local Kansas City family, the week is a start, but not the finish line.

Bret Miller noticed a lump in his right breast tissue at the age of 17. He brought it up to the doctor who was giving him a physical for fall sports. Again at the age of 23, Miller brought it up during a routine physical, he said, and the doctor said it was most likely calcium build-up.

“Immediately as a woman, if I feel a lump, it’s not good,” said Bret’s mother, Peggy Miller. “I have three sons and a daughter. I strive to teach them to not overreact, but to make sure.”

Bret had some discharge and thought the lump might be dissipating.

“Breast exams for men are not part of the male physical,” he said. “After another attempt during another physical, I had to stop the doctor. It was seven years from that first detection. I ended up having a sonogram. I didn’t know I was walking into a women’s clinic. The doctor did a triple take and then I had a mammogram.”

Bret said it is physically possible for a man to get breast cancer, something that many men do not realize.

“I ended up having breast cancer,” he said.

By late April 2010, the lump was removed and by mid-May, Bret had a mastectomy as a preventative measure. He also lost four lymph nodes and went through four rounds of chemotherapy. The cancer was stage 1.

“If a being has breast tissue, they can develop breast cancer, plain and simple,” Peggy said. “My son represents the fact that every man needs to know it is possible and what might happen. This is a global issue.”

To help out, the Miller family helps other men and their families when they receive a breast cancer diagnosis. The family runs malebreastcancercoalition.org.

“There’s such a stigma,” Bret said. “Breast cancer is broadcast as a female disease. It is a people disease. I am 10 years out for this process and still only the American Cancer Society recognizes this. Sure, the first time I said it, it’s weird, but I quickly came to terms.”

Peggy said the online group has been a help to many men.

“We don’t want anyone to ever feel alone,” she said.

Bret said one of the most unfortunate things is that men don’t talk about their health and seldom see a doctor.

“This has to change,” he said, “and it’s why I share my story.”

Amy Patel, breast radiologist and medical director of the Women’s Imaging Center at Liberty Hospital was part of a Male Breast Cancer Coalition conference as one of the expert panelists.

“Male breast cancer is rare — 1 in 800 men are diagnosed in their lifetime compared to 1 in 8 women. However, it’s important that men do not ignore breast symptoms when they have them, such as pain or a lump. The majority of symptoms end up being benign, but having an evaluation is important,” she said. “There is still a lot about male breast cancer we do not know and that’s why it’s also important that we continue to push for funding for male breast cancer research so can ensure ... men are receiving the correct recommendations for imaging surveillance as we currently have for women.”

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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