Male patients with breast cancer: Special considerations and gender-specific concerns


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Fatima Cardoso, MD: Today we will be discussing breast cancer in male patients. To join me in this discussion, I have Sharon Giordano and Oliver Bogler. I will ask, to start, that we briefly introduce ourselves.

I’m Fatima Cardoso. I’m a medical oncologist based in Lisbon, Portugal. I have had a special interest in this topic for a couple of years. Sharon?

Sharon H. Giordano, MD, MPH, FASCO: I’m Sharon Giordano. I practice at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. I’m also a medical oncologist and treat most of the male breast cancer patients that are seen here.

Oliver Bogler, PhD: I’m Oliver Bogler. I’m a cancer biologist by background and an 11-year survivor of breast cancer. Dr. Giordano was my oncologist during the active phase of my treatment. It’s great to be here with you.

Special considerations surrounding male patients

  • Dr. Cardoso: Sharon, when you are treating breast cancer in a male patient, what specific considerations do you have?
  • Dr. Giordano: As we all know, breast cancer in men is a rare disease. It makes up about 1 in 1,000 cases of breast cancer. I think that one of the major challenges in treating the disease is we just don’t have the same to support our treatments as we do for women.

Often, what we need to do and what we end up doing is extrapolating as much as possible from clinical trials that were conducted in female patients with breast cancer. I think that’s one of the major challenges we face in treating the disease. There have been international efforts to try to put together standardized treatment approaches.

For example, ASCO has created guidelines for the management of male breast cancer. NCCN also has a special page on considerations for treatment of men with breast cancer. I would encourage people to look at those resources if questions do come up on the topic.

Dr. Cardoso: Perhaps we can also mention that the latest clinical trials fortunately have been allowing for male patients to be included, which is very important so that we can start having some data on the new drugs. I think that’s also relevant.

Dr. Giordano: That’s a great point because, historically, most of the trials explicitly excluded men. I don’t know if it was intentional or they just wrote the trials saying “women with breast cancer,” because that’s what most people thought of. I think it’s a great effort by the FDA and by investigators to make sure now that men are included in the trials. That will help build our evidence base.

Dr. Cardoso: Oliver, 11 years ago, you faced the diagnosis and you went through this. Can you speak a little bit about this challenge of going through what is considered a rare disease, but also a disease that is very much associated with the female gender traditionally?

Dr. Bogler: Gladly. For me, it was particularly odd because my wife, at the time that I was diagnosed, was a 5-year survivor of breast cancer. It took me some time to even think that the lump I felt might be the same disease. That seemed very unlikely, statistically, and also odd.

I have to say that I was protected from much of the fish-out-of-water experience that many men have because I both worked and was treated at MD Anderson, where Dr Giordano has a large practice, so my colleagues and my friends were not surprised that a man could get this disease.

Many of the patients I met had that experience, difficulty convincing their primary care physician or even their first-line oncologist that this could be the case. I just want to connect to what you both said, which is that 10 years ago, inclusion of men in clinical trials was not standard. It is a fantastic development to see that because unless we include men, we won’t learn about that type of breast cancer.

Dr. Cardoso: Even if only a few are entering each trial, at least it allows us to see if the drug behaves the same way or if there is any strange behavior of the drug in a male patient. It’s already one step forward. You were going to mention something, Sharon?

Dr. Giordano: I was going to say that, anecdotally, I’ve heard the experience that Oliver referred to, of many men feeling not so much uncomfortable with the diagnosis – although that does happen – but not having an obvious fit within the health care system.

For example, going to get their mammogram as part of their diagnostic workup and whoever might be taking them back saying, “Oh, no, this is Mrs. Jones, not Mr.,” and trying to argue with them that it’s not really meant for them. I had a patient – and this guy had a great sense of humor – who had a biopsy done and the instructions were to place this pink, floral ice pack inside your bra.

Even the materials that we have are gender specific. I think those things all together can certainly contribute to a man feeling like a fish out of water.

Dr. Cardoso: Actually, I fought in my institution because they wanted to call the Breast and Gynecology Unit the Women’s Unit. I said that there is no way you can call it the Women’s Unit because we have male patients. There are small things that we can do in our institutions to try to decrease the stigma and to make it less awkward for a man to be in a waiting room that says Women’s Clinic or something similar to that.

The importance of a support system

Dr. Cardoso: I wanted Oliver, perhaps, to mention experiences that you may have heard from other men. Some men do not feel that comfortable speaking about the disease. Also, some of them do not feel comfortable after treatment to go to the beach, to show the scar, and to show what happens after you have radiation.

Some men actually take it quite heavily, psychologically speaking. Have you encountered some of these men?

Dr. Bogler: Definitely. I think it leads to men not accessing the support opportunities – their family, their friends, or the support groups – and staying away from those because of this feeling of not wanting to share about it. That can be damaging. Cancer treatment is usually a tough road for most people, and the long-term consequences of hormone therapy – most men have hormone-driven disease – can be significant. I agree with you.


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