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Oct. 1 male breast cancer

September 28, 2000

Boonsboro man talks about his encounter with the disease



The pain, sharp and stunning, vanished almost as swiftly as it began.

On another day, he may have discounted it as the daily routine began. Instead, he reached across his body to the left side of his chest and squeezed the flesh.

There was a lump.

He called his wife into the bedroom; she felt it, too.

Two biopsies later, on Oct. 28, 1997, his doctor broke the news: Frederick Reeder had breast cancer.

"The hope is always that maybe there is nothing there," says Reeder, 56, of Boonsboro.




The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 184,200 new cases of breast cancer detected this year. Only 1,400 of them will occur in men.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everyone knows about women and breast cancer; Reeder and others like him are the minority, without widespread support groups and literature aimed to calm their fears and ease their minds. Some men might feel shame and embarrassment, the feeling that they have been inflicted with a woman's disease.

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"I don't think men think of themselves as having breasts. They think of having a chest," says Betsy Lang, clinical oncology counselor at John R. Marsh Cancer Center.

Patty Hanson, executive director of the center, agrees.

"It implies a female characteristic, which it's not at all," she says. "And I don't think females think of men as having breasts."

The sexual stereotype, coupled with the limited number of male patients, means spreading the word that men can contract breast cancer is critical. Prostate cancer may be more prevalent, with 180,400 new cases anticipated in 2000, but the threat breast cancer poses to men is just as real.

"If a woman gets a lump in her breast, the level of awareness is such that they will go to their doctor," says Linda Frame, senior clinical adviser for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. "A man is just going to pooh-pooh it off and think it will go away, and might not share that information until it becomes a bit too significant.

"Because of the lack of awareness, men may not know it's a sign or symptom of breast cancer," Frame says. "Then it's the fear of 'What is it?' and 'Is it breast cancer?' and 'What am I doing having to deal with these issues?' "

But male or female, breast cancer manifests itself the same way, with the same procedures used to detect and treat it.

Reeder, a 38-year Mack Trucks Inc. employee, had a mammogram, but not until after his diagnosis. While commonplace and common sense for women, regular mammograms aren't cost-effective for men. The best defense is awareness, self-examination and talking to a doctor when something seems wrong.

More than a year before Reeder's diagnosis, in June of 1996, he noticed discharge from his left nipple. Not constantly, but often enough to send him to his doctor.

His doctor tested a sample and found nothing. And then the discharge stopped. Nothing out of the ordinary happened again until Reeder found the lump. But both times he was proactive in seeking treatment.

LaMar McGinnis, M.D., senior medical consultant for American Cancer Society in Atlanta, says risk factors are similar for both genders: Family history, high estrogen levels and radiation treatments to the chest for other diseases all contribute to breast cancer development.

Once diagnosed, the disease progresses in the same way, with five possible stages. Mortality rates for men and women decrease at the same rate.

Catch it early, in Stage 0 or 1, and the survival rate is around 98 percent. Catch it in Stage 4, and the rate of survival plunges to 14 percent.

One difference in men is that because they have relatively little breast tissue, the cancer is often detected farther along in its development, closer to the skin.

"It's so frequently diagnosed late, so I think one of the most important things is for men to be aware that they could contract breast cancer," McGinnis says. "It's diagnosed late, therefore survival for breast cancer in men is less than in women."

Reeder knew what breast cancer could do; his mother died of the disease when she was 48. At 53, he faced a similar dilemma.

He says the support of family members, particularly his wife, Herald-Mail employee Margaret Reeder, helped pull him through.

"Margaret, she was really down about it. Of course, so was I," he says. " 'If I have to do the treatments,' I said, 'I'm going to lose my hair, I'm going to lose my beard.' She said, 'You have plenty of hats.' "

After finding the lump, he went to work as usual, setting up an appointment to see his doctor. He was referred to another physician, who scheduled a biopsy. When the results were inconclusive, a second biopsy was conducted to take samples from his left breast.

That was on Oct. 23. Results weren't due until Oct. 28.

"They tell you it takes five days for those results to come back, and man, oh man, it seems like an eternity," Reeder recalls, softly. "When you're waiting on those results, that's the tough part of it."

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