Untold story of men with breast cancer
Many people think breast cancer affects only women over 60 years, but the truth is that it can affect both women and men of any age.
This month marks 47-year-old Bizimana Anastase’s first steps towards getting treatment for a disease that has seen him in and out of hospital for the past three years.
When he fled the Rwanda genocide as a child in the 90s, Anastase and his family were not only seeking peace but a healthy life in Kenya.
“Of course, you cannot be 100 per cent healthy. You will, more often than not, seek health services for the common cold or malaria. And, in worst cases, you could be hospitalised following a road accident,” he says.
Mr Anastase was diagnosed in May 2017 with breast cancer, which affects the left side of his chest.
He had visited several health centres in Nairobi complaining of a breast lump, itchiness around his groin, and stomach upsets.
On most occasions, he was given antibiotics and anti-itch medication.
Even after going back to hospital complaining of persistent pain and discomfort, the father of one was still referred to general physicians.
After about three-and-a-half years of medical care, he was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) for investigations. Only then was breast cancer diagnosed.
“At KNH, they asked me to do an x-ray, after which the doctor told me they wanted to take samples of my breast tissue,” narrates Mr Anastase.
“At first I was reserved. I wanted to know why they wanted to slice a piece of tissue specifically from my breast. I was edgy but I eventually agreed to it.”
Two weeks later, he was called by the doctor and given the heartbreaking news of the results.
“I stood still and all I could hear was someone repeatedly uttering the words: ‘You have cancer’.”
For months he kept the news to himself, not divulging it to his wife or relatives. “I was afraid of not only telling them that I had cancer, but cancer of the breast,” says Mr Anastase.
Contrary to popular belief, men can develop breast cancer, whether they are young or old.
The annual mortality rate per 100,000 people from breast cancer in Kenya has decreased by 5.3 per cent (5,300) since 1990, an average of 0.2 per cent (200) a year.
For men, the deadliness of breast cancer peaks at age 80, with the lowest death rate occurring among those between 40 and 44 years.
“Men tend to be reserved about their health. Those diagnosed with breast cancer mostly try to keep it to themselves,” explains David Makumi, chairman of the Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations (Kenco) and patron of the Oncology Nurses Chapter.
Women, on the other hand, are more likely to die from breast cancer at 65 to 69 years, compared with 15 to 19 years.
At 109 deaths per 100,000 women in 2013, the peak mortality rate was higher than that of men, which was 10 per 100,000.
Despite the numbers being lower in men, more men than women die from the disease.
“Men generally have less breast tissue, therefore breast cancer becomes more aggressive. This, coupled with poor health care, often results in higher mortality,” says Prof Nicholas Abinya, a cancer specialist.
Prof Abinya says slightly more women than men have breast cancer. The disease accounts for 20 per cent of all types of cancers.
“Looking at cancer that affects both genders, men are slightly more predisposed than women and the outcome in men is worse than in women,” adds Prof Abinya.
But awareness of the condition is growing among both genders. This is attributed to a number of factors such as increase in population, diagnostic equipment and specialists.
As awareness increases, so does the number of new cancer cases, owing mainly to lifestyle.