With similar breast tissue that can undergo cancerous changes, breast cancer isn't just a woman's disease. Although women are approximately more than 100 times likely to get breast cancer, any man can develop breast cancer.
Terre Haute resident Jim Everhart was surprised to discover he was among the statistics of 1,600 men diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2008. His wife Sue, who is a retired nurse, was the first to notice hardening and discoloration of the nipple area on the left side of Jim's chest.
Due the rarity of male breast cancer, physicians in Oklahoma, where the Everhart's were residing at the time, initially misdiagnosed Jim's condition. Breast cancer was not in his family's medical history.
"The men in my family are long-lifers. No one in my family had breast cancer. It never crossed my mind," Everhart said about seeking treatment. "At first, the doctors didn't know what was wrong with me. They even asked my wife what she thought was wrong."
The couple immediately returned to Indiana and sought medical treatment at first in Terre Haute and ultimately in Indianapolis.
"People don't realize how lucky they are to have access to the great medical care in this area. Many rural areas do not have the equipment needed to properly diagnose diseases," Everhart said. "Within a few days back in Terre Haute, I knew what was wrong and was being treated."
However, Everhart admits the diagnosis was hard to swallow at first.
"When the doctor said breast cancer, I admit it, I was in denial for a while," he said as Sue nodded. "I was like, 'I'm a man.'"
"Maybe it's a 'man thing,' to be tough about things like that," Sue said. "And he was tough through it all, but it upset him for a while."
Everhart had a complete mastectomy -- like the procedure done on women -- on the left side of his chest. The procedure has left a "hollow place" on his body and a heightened sense of self-consciousness.
"I won't go without wearing a shirt anymore," Everhart said. "The doctors said having the mastectomy wouldn't be such a bother psychologically to a man as a woman, but it is."
Doctors told Everhart the quarter-sized cancer mass in his left breast tissue was present 5-8 years prior to its detection.
"I didn't pay attention to it," he said. "I'm a guy."
Now, Everhart is paying attention and making it a point to raise awareness among his friends and family members.
"I talk about it with my golf buddies," Everhart said.
Making sure to educate himself about breast cancer, often times Everhart found himself the only man in a long line of women seeking treatment at doctor's offices, hospitals and medical conferences.
"They thought my wife was the one with cancer," Everhart said. "There just aren't any protocols specifically for the treatment of men. I understand the numbers are so low for men that there wasn't a need for it before, but the numbers are on the rise."
According to the couple, doctors recently informed them the 2009 statistics for men diagnosed/treated for breast cancer rose to more than 1,900 and is expected to be more in 2010.
"I often find myself an island in a sea of women, and it's got to be that way. This is a terrible disease," Everhart said. "But with numbers pertaining to men going up, the thinking about who can be affected by breast cancer has got to change. The awareness has to shift to include men, because anyone can get breast cancer."
A risk assessment concluded Everhart's risk of cancer reoccurring is approximately 13 percent within the next 5 years, but he's lowering his risk by fighting back.
"I've lost some weight, which is a factor," Everhart said, adding that he's keeping active and has an optimistic outlook. "There never was a point when I didn't think I wouldn't be cured of cancer. My family, my church has supported me all along. They have been there for me. I'm truly a blessed man."
Although Everhart has recovered, he's worried about others facing a breast cancer diagnosis.
"I feel sorry for people who don't have emotional support in their lives, or are on fixed incomes," Everhart said. "We were financially OK, but it was tough sometimes because there were so many expenses along the way. I worry about others who can't afford the costs and might not be able to make the best choices for their health."
Other than learning about self-examination techniques, Everhart offers advice to men in their 60-70s, when the diagnosis occurs most.
"If you have an unusual growth in your breast area, find out what it is. Don't think it's not going to happen to you, it can," Everhart said. "(And if it does,) be optimistic. If you get down, it's hard to get back up."
Male Breast Cancer Awareness
The most common sign of breast cancer for both men and women is a painless lump or thickening in the breast.
Other male breast cancer symptoms include:
* Skin dimpling or puckering,
* Development of a new retraction or indentation of the nipple,
* Changes in the nipple or breast skin, such as scaling or redness, and
* Nipple discharge.
To properly diagnose breast cancer, a doctor could use various forms of imaging and state-of-the-art equipment, including mammography machines, dedicated breast ultrasound units and computer-assisted diagnosis equipment.