breast cancer threat

Men beware, breast cancer threat is real!

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WHEN David McCallion was told that the swelling in his breasts was harmless and a cosmetic problem, he felt reassured.

Five years later, however, the 59-year-old discovered he was one of a tiny fraction of British men who are diagnosed with a disease that typically strikes women — breast cancer.

The cancer has now spread to other parts of the father-of-two’s body, meaning the disease has entered its secondary stages.

But in contrast to the support given to women battling breast cancer, Mr McCallion claims he faced a wall of silence, with friends of 30 years crossing the road to avoid talking about the predominantly ‘female’ disease.

Speaking to MailOnline, Mr McCallion has set out to change people’s perceptions of breast cancer.

Men with the disease should not be forced to live in ‘heartbreaking’ silence through their ordeal, he said.

His breast issues started back in 2014.

After noticing an unusual swelling, Mr McCallion went to his GP who reassured him he had gynecomastia.

Sometimes referred to as ‘man boobs’, gynecomastia is a common condition that causes men’s breasts to swell, becoming larger than usual as a result.

David McCallion with his wife Julie

It is caused by a hormonal imbalance but, apart from causing cosmetic concerns, is harmless.

However, while not considered to be directly linked to breast cancer, gynaecomastia shares a symptom — causing physical changes to breast tissue.

Mr McCallion, who lives in Oldham with his wife Julie, learned about tell-tale signs of breast cancer in men at this time.

In 2019, he developed a hallmark symptom of the disease — his nipple had become inverted.

He went straight to his GP and, within weeks, was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. This means the cancer is particularly large and has started to spread to surrounding tissue.

Medics told him he had invasive ductal carcinoma, a sub-type of breast cancer that starts in the breast ducts.

Mr McCallion had a mastectomy, surgery to remove his right breast.

Breast cancer in men is rare, with only 370 men diagnosed each year in the UK.

That is compared to 55,500 cases in women, according to data from charity Breast Cancer Now.

In the US, an estimated one in every 100 breast cancers diagnosed is found in men.

Mr McCallion said: “When I was told it was obviously a bit of a shock, but less of a shock because I had three weeks waiting for the results of the biopsy, I had already got it in my head that it was definitely cancer.

“Because I had that gynecomastia issue years before, I knew men could get breast cancer.

“I also knew my mother had had breast cancer and a sister had ductal carcinoma in situ. It was in the family. So, I was aware that this could be potentially serious.”

But it wasn’t just a cancer diagnosis ex-social care worker Mr McCallion was dealing with. Due to council budget cuts, his employer was dissolved and he was made redundant.

He started chemo in December 2019 and was shocked to find his hair already falling out on Christmas Eve.

“I woke up on Christmas Eve, went to the bathroom, and just touched the top of my head, and all the top of my hair fell out,” he said.

Worried he would ‘scare’ his grandchildren he decided to shave his head before Christmas Day and made a ‘joke’ out of it, telling his grandchildren he “had made a silly mistake.”

“It was quite dramatic that it happened on that day of all days,” Mr McCallion said.

But he wasn’t the only member of his family who had been diagnosed with cancer.

He said: “At the same time my sister-in-law had been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer on the day I was having my auxiliary lymph clearance in the same hospital. So, most of us had no hair on Christmas.

“Literally months after that a cousin in Ireland had the same breast cancer as me. We had all these people on a journey at the same time.”

Due to the Covid pandemic, his final round of chemotherapy was cancelled and he waited until June 2020 to start radiotherapy.

In January 2022, Mr McCallion had a genetic test which revealed he had an altered gene that made it more likely for him to get breast cancer.

To reduce the risk of his cancer returning, he also had the breast tissue on the left side of his chest removed by mastectomy.

For about a year ‘life was going swimmingly’ for Mr McCallion, but in December 2023 he caught Covid and although he recovered within a month he still felt out of breath.

At a routine check-up, he mentioned to the nurse that he had been feeling breathless, but that he couldn’t get an appointment.

A nurse saw him later that day and he was referred to get an X-ray. Doctors found two suspicious growths on his right lung and four small ones on his left.

Tests later showed it was a secondary breast cancer — where the disease spreads to another part of the body.

Secondary breast cancer most commonly spreads to the liver, brain, bones and, as in Mr McCallion’s case, the lungs.

“I knew while we were at my youngest son’s stag do that, I might have stage four cancer. I couldn’t say anything to my family,” he said.

He had to bottle up the devastating news until his son was back from his honeymoon.

In July 2023, he started targeted therapy, which is designed to find and attack cancer cells.

He also started hormone treatments, which are used to treat cancers that use hormones to grow which includes breast cancer.

But initially, Mr McCallion found it hard to talk about his experience with breast cancer with anyone but his family.

“I’ve known people for over 30 years who cross the road to avoid speaking to me,’ he said.

“Since I was diagnosed in 2019, I have had very little contact with anybody that was there before that.

“So to a degree, I lost everything. I lost my job, I was made redundant and now no one wants to employ someone with such health records.”

“But I haven’t got the time in my day, to sit there worrying anymore about what other people think and why they walked out. These people probably didn’t have the language or education to talk about it,” he added.

Mr McCallion was eventually put in touch with another man with breast cancer, through a scheme by the charity, Breast Cancer Now, allowing him to finally open up with someone else.

“When I was talking to this man, it was wonderful because he’d ring me every week, just we would talk about anything, not necessarily the cancer,” he said.

With most breast cancer support directed at women, Mr McCallion said many men ‘hit a pink wall’ and ‘turn off’.

Although he admits women should be getting the most support, because the disease mostly affects them, he finds it ‘hard’ from a male perspective.

“I’d hate to think men that men who do get diagnosed with it, just put their shirt back on and tell nobody,” he said.

“That would be awful. To go through it all and never really talk about it other than obviously, close relatives’ family. I find it heartbreaking.”

Mr McCallion now frequently gives talks and supports a number of causes aiming to help both men and women living with breast cancer.

However, he still encounters a huge lack of awareness that men can even get the disease.

“People say how can you have breast cancer, you haven’t got breast. So, I remind them you do have breast tissue. Women have a lot more, but we all have breast tissue; therefore, you can get breast cancer,” he said.

He added: “I feel now that helping men to sort of talk about things that they wouldn’t normally talk about, is something I feel compelled to do. It helps them and helps me too.”

Mr McCallion urges people to not self-diagnose if they find anything abnormal on their body and go straight to the GP instead.

He said: “I think the message is to everybody, male or female, is if you notice any different change on your body, whatsoever, that’s not your normal. Go to the doctor immediately. Don’t second guess or Google it.”

To raise further awareness around secondary breast Cancer, Mr McCallion has collaborated with Breast Cancer Now on its latest campaign, an exhibition called Gallery of Hope.

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