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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Gendered treatment of breast cancer unfair to men

For the past 25 years, October has been the designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The website for National Breast Cancer Awareness month will tell you it’s been “”celebrating 25 years of Awareness, Education, and Empowerment.”” Three generations of smiling women sit beside the slogan on the site. Navigate to another part of the website, “”newly diagnosed,”” and a comforting tutorial-like page for those recently diagnosed will appear. In similar fashion to the home page, positioned below the slogan, “”With breast cancer, education is empowerment,”” is a photograph of what appears to be a mother and her daughter.

Nowhere on the site is there a photograph of a man, not even on the page titled “”Male breast cancer and common treatments.”” While less than 1 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses are found in men, usually between the ages of 60 and 70, those men still exist. Young, middle aged and elderly women have become the faces of breast cancer. If men feel exempt from the disease, how will they know the symptoms if they do develop breast cancer?

This year, Scott Cunningham, a 45-year-old man from Marion, N.C., was refused a free mammogram from a local public health clinic and was told by a clinical nursing supervisor at the Rutherford-Polk-McDowell Health Department that “”federal funds for breast screening are just for women,”” according to an article in the NY Daily News.

In most cases, men aren’t able to detect a growth that could be cancerous due to a lack of knowledge of the symptoms related to male breast cancer. Cunningham, however, acted as most doctors would advise and was denied treatment. Rejecting Cunningham not only potentially allows for the cancer to grow and become more difficult to treat but also sends the message that men are not as entitled to receive a free mammogram, as women are. Contrary to the actions of the free clinic, breast cancer is just as threatening to men as it is to women and needs to be treated with the same caution.

Former Kiss drummer Peter Criss, now cancer free, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, and “”has talked publicly about the stigma and ‘excruciating’ pain associated with treatment designed for women’s bodies,”” according to an article on

The rarity of male diagnoses should translate into hyper-awareness for men in order to make sure they can recognize the symptoms and don’t leave the disease untreated. Criss and other men fighting breast cancer shouldn’t experience feelings of humiliation or pain as if they are undergoing a women’s treatment. Breast cancer affects men. That fact alone should tell people to disassociate the cancer as solely a women’s disease.

The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month website pointed out that “”most women are aware of breast cancer and have a female friend or family member affected by breast cancer. Men often do not even know it is possible for them to get breast cancer, and therefore ignore the symptoms.”” Isn’t this more reason to raise awareness among men and steer away from the solely feminine associations with the disease?

Not only does the pink ribbon stand as the national symbol for fighting breast cancer, but the trademarked logo for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a pink oval with a darker pink outline of a woman. These details, although minor, only further exclude men from the awareness community.

The pink ribbon and other forms of advertisement about breast cancer have raised awareness in the past 25 years and have been beneficial to fighting the cancer. However, the feminine character that has been attributed to the disease over the past generation has left some men entirely oblivious to the reality that they too are susceptible to the disease. Yes, women are more frequently diagnosed with breast cancer, but that doesn’t make it appropriate to gender the disease. Our society understands breast cancer as a woman, when in reality both men and women fall victim to it.

— Alexandra Bortnik is a creative writing junior. She can be reached at

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