James Pipkin never imagined his name would be on paperwork for a mammogram.
He had showed up at the doctor’s office, at his wife’s direction, to check out the “pebble-like” lump in the right side of his chest.
Pipkin was even less prepared for the diagnosis that was confirmed by the mammogram: Breast cancer. That meant surgery, four rounds of chemotherapy, and tamoxifen drug therapy for five years.
The 64-year-old readily admits that before his own bout with breast cancer he had always considered the condition “a female problem.”
“When my doctor told me I needed a mammogram I thought he was high,” said Pipkin, recalling a March day in 2009. “I was stunned because I was trying to figure out ‘why me?”
Later, I said ‘why not me?”
He was talking to the AFRO in October, near the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and is part of a statistical minority. Less than one percent of those who proudly boast pink ribbons are male victims, a figure that is dwarfed by the more than 226,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
Pipkin, now in remission, speaks at universities and churches in efforts to promote male breast cancer awareness.
“I’m trying to get the word out to the men. Stop being macho. If you feel a discomfort, see swelling or discoloration, go to your doctor.”
Like Black women, though, African American men are less likely to develop breast cancer, they are more likely to die from it.
According to the Office of Minority Health, African American women are 10 percent less likely to develop breast cancer but 40 percent more likely to die from the abnormal, out-of-control multiplication of cancerous cells.
Similar to women of all colors, men have an increased chance of developing breast cancer as they advance in age.
Though there is no definite way to prevent the development of cancer, health officials from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommend eating healthy, keeping up a regular exercise routine, and limiting alcohol intake to lower risk.
Both men and women should be aware of all cancers and health conditions that run in the family, as family history is considered a major predisposing factor.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the chances of breast cancer in men increase five to 10 percent when there is a family member who has already battled the disease.
Like Pipkin, 77-year-old Don Lucas was born into a family with a history of breast cancer.
Two aunts, his mother, and a grandmother had all been survivors of the disease before he was told there he needed a mastectomy on his right side.
Lucas vividly remembers going down into an area labeled the ‘women’s imaging center,’ to receive his mammogram, but recalls chuckling at the sign instead of becoming upset or embarrassed.
“There are men out there who don’t think men can get breast cancer. Guess what guys? You’re wrong!”
“If you’re rubbing a soap bar around under your arms or around your chest area and you find something- you’d better check it out.
“Don’t wait,” said Lucas, when asked his strongest piece of advice for men who exhibit possible symptoms.
Men and women over the age of fifty are encouraged to get mammograms done every two years. However, many survivors encourage an annual date with the doctor for the procedure to help prevent and catch and issues related to breast cancer.
The Baltimore City Cancer Program, located at the University of Maryland’s Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, offers mammograms and clinical breast exams free of charge to eligible Baltimore City residents.
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