When Rob Fechtner of Napa woke up one morning in 2006 to a sore spot on his chest and a strange indentation in his nipple, his first thought was that he'd pulled a muscle. Even his doctor told him it was probably nothing to worry about.
But the inverted nipple bothered him, and with a little online research he learned it was a symptom of breast cancer - in men as well as women. He pushed his doctor for a mammogram, and two days later he learned that he did, in fact, have breast cancer. He's since had a mastectomy and been treated with chemotherapy.
"Before I went on the Internet, I had no idea men could get breast cancer," said Fechtner, 51. "I should have known in the back of my mind that it was a possibility. We need to get the message out there to men."
Male breast cancer is rare - less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States are in men, according to the American Cancer Society. But some men may be at greater risk than others of getting cancer - those who carry the breast cancer gene, for example, or who have been exposed to radiation in the chest. And because men aren't routinely screened for breast cancer, and aren't often encouraged to perform self-exams, their cancers are usually more advanced by the time they're diagnosed.
So while breast cancer is much more unusual in men than in women, it's also deadlier.
"Men present sometimes a little bit later, because they don't expect breast cancer," said Dr. Susan Kutner, chairwoman of Kaiser Permanente's Regional Breast Care Task Force. "They get a lump and they think it's from something they did. It's not part of their consciousness that it's something they're at risk for."
Signs may be missed
There are fewer than 2,000 new cases and 450 deaths from breast cancer in men each year, compared to more than 192,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths in women, says the American Cancer Society.
Symptoms of breast cancer in men and women can include dimpling or puckering of the skin on the breast; an inverted nipple, or other changes such as redness or scaling on the nipple; and nipple discharge.
Women are more likely to notice symptoms, if only because they're usually more body-conscious than men, Kutner said. They see their doctors for regular gynecological visits, when they usually have breast exams, too, and they experience normal hormonal changes that may make them more sensitive to irregularities in their bodies.
By Erin Allday, Chronicle Staff Writer