Monday, June 29, 2009

Should we rename breast cancer?

Looking through the press cuttings for this month's exceptional Men's Health Week, I came across the story of Nicky Avery from Southend. At 27, he is believed to be the youngest man to have been diagnosed with breast cancer. He's now campaigning for the disease in men to be renamed. He says: 'I want to get the terminology changed so men get checked if they find something. For men it’s such a taboo and so many men don’t know they can even get it. I want the name less feminine so I say call it what it is – chest cancer.'

Indeed, many will be surprised to learn that men can get breast cancer. But they can. Would changing the name make a difference? Would the 300 men affected every year seek treatment more quickly if it had a more neutral name?

Clearly it's an issue. I've heard of doctors writing 'chest wall cancer' rather than 'breast cancer' on men's death certificates which puts the disease on the same taboo level as suicide. A recent survey shows that men are 70% more likely to die of cancer than women and not going to the doctor soon enough is clearly a factor in this. But with breast cancer it's not just men who are reluctant to present with a lump, women are too because, as one man with breast cancer put it to me: 'for a woman the loss of a breast is a loss of a part of her personality as well as part of her body'. If changing the name encouraged just a handful more men and women to seek treatment sooner it would be worth it.

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