Mike didn't think men could get breast cancer until he was diagnosed at the age of 49.
It all began one night when he felt a tender lump in his right breast. If it wasn't for bloody discharge from his nipple, Mike might have ignored the lump altogether. Concerned, he visited a breast surgeon, who performed a biopsy after a mammogram and ultrasound were completed. Although rare in men, Mike was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mike had a significant family history of cancer. His mother was a breast cancer survivor who had been diagnosed in her 40s, only to later pass away from ovarian cancer.
Mike, a sales director at a major corporation who describes himself as being very matter-of-fact, was shocked by his diagnosis but immediately scheduled surgery. Mike underwent mastectomy and sentinel axillary lymph node dissection. Because the sentinel lymph node was positive for cancer, his surgeon completed an axillary lymph node dissection, removing 14 lymph nodes altogether.
"Men [who] go too long without going to see their doctors. I took the time to have it checked out. I encourage my buddies to do the same."
After the successful surgery, Mike met with an oncologist to discuss his treatment options. Based on the positive node, Mike’s oncologist recommended chemotherapy, and Mike prepared himself for the possible side effects. Mike underwent his first round of chemotherapy without any immediate difficulty. A week later, he was out of town on business and started to experience severe abdominal pain. Mike was admitted to the ICU at a local hospital and was diagnosed with inflammation of the cecum (a segment of the intestine).
After returning home, his doctors decided that Mike was not healthy enough to resume chemotherapy. Unless the inflammation resolved, Mike would need to have the inflamed segment of intestine removed in order to continue with chemotherapy. They waited for a few weeks, but there was still no improvement. Because of this quandary and the need to make a decision about the next step in his treatment, Mike's surgeon suggested using the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score assay to evaluate the benefit of chemotherapy.
Based on a Recurrence Score result of 3, Mike’s oncologist determined that chemotherapy did not offer significant benefit in his case and recommended hormonal therapy with tamoxifen.
"It's reassuring knowing that chemo isn't something that I have to take a risk with."
Once this decision had been made with the help of the Oncotype DX assay, Mike was very relieved. "It's reassuring knowing that chemo isn't something that I have to take a risk with," he says.
While Mike was seeking information about his diagnosis, he realized that there isn't much information or literature available for men who have breast cancer. He also met some barriers when seeking pre-approval for Oncotype DX from his insurance company. "They told me, 'Because you're a man, it's not covered. If you were a woman, you would be covered.'" But Exact Sciences's Genomic Access Program
offered to appeal directly to his insurance company, or to work out a payment plan.
Today, with the support of his wife, three children, and work colleagues, Mike feels healthy and continues treatment with tamoxifen. Even though Mike thinks that he was fortunate, he recognizes the obstacles he personally experienced as a male breast cancer patient and has some valuable advice for "Men [who] go too long without going to see their doctors. I took the time to have it checked out. I encourage my buddies to do the same."