Breast Cancer Survivors

A fathers diagnosis helps spare his daughters life and together they learn how knowing their familys medical history would save others

It’s Rare for Men But Not Unheard of
For Arnaldo, a stationary fireman at a junior high school in New York City, discovery of his critical family medical history began in late 2006, when he felt an abnormal lump on the right side of his chest while taking a shower. His primary physician  dismissed the lump as fatty tissue and assured him not to worry. Five months later, he noticed the lump had grown. A second opinion offered the same initial diagnosis, but as a precaution this doctor ordered a biopsy, which confirmed that Arnaldo had breast cancer.

Because the disease is so rare in men, they don’t require routine testing. Unfortunately, Arnaldo falls into the small group of men that make up less than 1% of all breast cancer cases. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2009 breast cancer will be diagnosed in about 1,910 men and an estimated 440 will die of it. In contrast, an estimated 192,370 women will receive a diagnosis of the disease; 40,170 will die of it this year alone. “Any male can get breast cancer,” contends Dr. Ramona Swaby, an attending physician of medical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center and one of black enterprise’s leading doctors (see “America’s Leading Doctors,” May 2008). “Men who develop the cancer, even when the numbers are small, usually have a gene mutation.”

Arnaldo’s doctor assured him that it wasn’t terminal, but insisted he undergo a radical mastectomy—a surgical procedure in which the breast and underlying chest muscle are removed—and that he and his family receive genetic testing for the DNA gene mutation. “When my children came back positive, that’s when I broke down,” says Arnaldo. “This is how my kids and grandchildren are going to remember me? That I gave them cancer? I went into a deep depression.”

A Daughter’s Fate
On the same day Vanessa told her doctor about her father’s gene mutation, Rosenbaum Smith scheduled a mammogram, which revealed extensive calcifications, or little flecks of calcium deposits, in the tissue in Vanessa’s left breast. This confirmed the doctor’s suspicion of cancer based solely on her father testing BRCA2 positive.

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