Male breast cancer survivor: Don't be embarrassed – see a doctor

September 29, 2013 | by Roberta Nichols

Don Hoffman routinely displays a pink City of Hope breast cancer awareness pin on his collar – and welcomes the inevitable question: "Why are you wearing that?"

Don Hoffman Don Hoffman, breast cancer survivor Photo: Courtesy Don Hoffman

"I get the opportunity to say I’m one of the one half of 1 percent of diagnosed breast cancers per year that are men," says Hoffman, 74, of Northridge, Calif.

In January 2011, Hoffman noticed the nipple area (areola) on his left breast was suspiciously flat, unlike the convex shape of his right breast. After several weeks, he consulted his doctor. "I couldn’t feel anything, nor could he, but we both agreed that it looked a little strange," said Hoffman.

Following a mammogram revealing a thumbnail-sized 1.6 centimeter mass, Hoffman headed to City of Hope. After all, he had been involved with the institution ever since he was a teenager, volunteering at its fundraisers and eventually joining the Board of Governors auxiliary.

At City of Hope, Hoffman underwent a needle biopsy that confirmed a malignancy.

He came under the care of oncologist Joanne Mortimer, M.D.,  director of the Women's Cancers Program at City of Hope and surgeon Laura Kruper, M.D.,  director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center at City of Hope. He underwent a successful radical mastectomy of his left breast in March 2011. Thanks to early detection, the cancer had not spread to his lymph nodes.

Since then, Hoffman has been taking the hormone-blocking medication tamoxifen. Aside from occasional side effects such as night sweats and hot flashes (which he says endear him to women), he is now doing well.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 2,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men this year. Hoffman is determined to lower this statistic in the future by educating people about the disease.

After his diagnosis, he emailed male colleagues on City of Hope’s Board of Governors to let them know about his diagnosis, and suggest that they man up about their health. "The reason I am telling this story is to alert every man to the fact that we are all vulnerable to breast cancer and must be vigilant in observing our bodies," he wrote.

Colleagues later told him he had prompted them to seek medical treatment for conditions they had been ignoring.

Given that cancer runs in his family (his father died of lung cancer and his mother of a brain tumor) and Hoffman is of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, he also underwent genetic testing at City of Hope for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutation to determine whether his children would require testing. He did not have the mutation.

These days, besides his work on behalf of City of Hope, Hoffman and his wife, Lois, travel the country taking part in square and "round" (ballroom) dance festivals. Wherever he goes, he sports his pink City of Hope breast cancer awareness pin – spreading the message of early detection as he enlists new recruits in his personal war on cancer.

We asked Hoffman what practical tips or advice he would give others:

1. Look at your body in the mirror, and don't ignore minor physical changes you might see.

2. Have someone else "look you over" as well.

3. Don't be embarrassed to talk to your doctor when you think you have found something. Let your doctor check out any unusual physical changes immediately and guide you toward treatment, if necessary.

4. When your biopsy is found to be positive, approach your condition in a positive way. Just look around at all of the women who have survived breast cancer, and you will realize that you're just a small part of a very large population.

5. Once diagnosed, seek treatment as fast as possible.

6. Let your surgeon decide what needs to be done. As a man, a radical mastectomy doesn't really change your outward appearance.

7. After the surgery, a drain will be inserted in the incision. You will be told to use the arm on the incision side of your body as little as possible. Do what you are told!

8. Get a pink breast cancer pin and wear it on your collar every day. The pin will cause people to inquire why you are wearing it. Be proud of the fact that you are a male breast cancer survivor.

9. Tell your story every opportunity you get, with a special emphasis on the fact that men are also at risk.

Join our breast cancer TweetChat on Tuesday, Oct. 15, noon to 1 p.m. PT.

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