Male breast cancer patients speak out about rare disease

Male mammogram

Organizations such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation have put breast cancer in a national spotlight, with the attention focused on warning women about the disease. But men can get it too.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. Last year, three cases were diagnosed at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia. That's an uncommonly high number, and one that has a Columbia doctor and his patients spreading the word about this rare disease.

86 year old George Bacalakis of Columbia runs a thriving internet business selling his artwork. But now, he must add appointments for chemotherapy to his schedule. When he found a lump on his side last fall, the diagnosis of cancer was shocking. It was the first time he had cancer. The second shock came when he found out it was a breast cancer that had spread.

"They said I want you to consider having a complete mastectomy and of course being a man I thought to myself, what is this, are they joking?"

After the surgery, and removal and testing of 8 lymph nodes, Bacalakis says he is now cancer free.

didn't feel a lump in his breast, but another patient, JR Renick of Jefferson City did. His doctors were not concerned until it grew.

"It started kind of small, about the size of a quarter," remembers Renick. "By the time they noticed it and sent me for a mammogram, it was like two silver dollars on top of each other, that's how large it got."

Like most men, Renick never thought it could be cancer.

"Most men come in and say, 'I had no idea I could get breast cancer. I had no idea that this hard lump underneath my breast that was growing was a cancer," says Dr. Paul Dale, Medical Director at Ellis Fischel.

Dr. Dale says typically a cancerous lump is behind the nipple and yes, it can be detected with a mammogram or ultrasound. Like in women, doctors also can biopsy the suspicious lump.

But Dr. Dale is quick to point out that not all lumps are cancerous, and in fact most are not. They are gynecomastia, a benign condition caused by many factors. The American Cancer Society lists some medicines can cause gynecomastia, including some drugs used to treat ulcers and heartburn, high blood pressure, and heart failure.

Dr. Dale points out out o
ne notable difference in the two conditions is that gynecomastia can be painful, while a cancerous lump is not.