Ernie Steele knew something was wrong when he found a lump in his right breast.
He thought the lump was just scar tissue, the result of a bad car accident survived more than 20 years ago. Over the years, he’d experienced occasional pain in his breast, but when his nipple began retracting last June, he contacted his doctor.
“It scared me,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was. That’s when I went to the doctor and got a mammogram.”
After a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy in January, doctors determined that the roughly 5-centimeter mass in his breast was actually Stage 2 breast cancer. Steele, a 62-year-old retired government employee from New Carrollton, was devastated.
“I couldn’t believe it, I thought I was going to die,” he said.
Steele is one of the rare instances of men diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, men make up less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases.
The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in men is 1 in 1000, said Dr. Kristen Fernandez, M.D., Director of the Breast Center at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and Steele’s physician.
In men, cancer cells can form in the breast tissue, and are often treated using the same methods undergone by women diagnosed with the disease.
Men ages 60 to 70 years old are at a higher risk, the National Cancer Institute says, which can increase due to factors such as high estrogen levels, radiation exposure and a family history of breast cancer.
Steele said his mother and maternal aunt both died of ovarian cancer, and he later tested positive for gene mutation.
After rounds of chemotherapy, a mastectomy of his right breast and radiation treatments, Steele said he’s now cancer free, but is still undergoing treatment to keep the cancer from coming back.
He urges men to step up and seek treatment at the first sign of lump.
“If you do have a lump, get it checked out. Go get a mammogram,” he said. “Don’t be embarrassed, just go get it done.”
Dr. Fernandez agrees.
“The biggest message to get to men is if you feel a lump in your breast, let your doctor know. Odds are it’s not going to be breast cancer, but don’t just ignore it. If it is, you’ll want to know about it as soon as you can.”