This October, focus and awareness are being placed on a health crisis that affects one in every eight women in the United States.
Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death among women in the U.S. For Black women, it’s even more severe. With a 31% mortality rate, Black women have the highest risk out of all races in the country.
It’s not hard to see why talking about breast cancer, telling stories of survival and learning about how it's treated can be life-saving for women. However, women are not the only ones whose lives are turned upside down by breast cancer.
Earlier this month, music executive Matthew Knowles revealed he was diagnosed with breast cancer this past July, which he immediately had a mastectomy to treat. Knowles told Michael Strahan in an exclusive interview with Good Morning America that he has the BRCA2 mutation gene, which triggers breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer as well as melanoma.
“The rest of my life, I have to be very much aware and conscious and do all of the early detection - constant mammograms, constant prostate exams, constant MRIs, for the rest of my life,” he said, impassioned by his new awareness and outlook.
Beyonce and Solange’s father isn’t the first Black male celebrity to be diagnosed with breast cancer: '90s talk show host Montell Williams and legendary actor Richard Roundtree were also diagnosed with breast cancer and had mastectomies as a result.
Breast cancer is widely known as a women’s disease but still affects over 2,600 men a year, killing around 500 annually, according to data reported by the American Cancer Society. The data also states that much like Black women, Black men are at a higher risk than white men.
American Cancer Society researchers found that young Black men are 76% more likely to die from breast cancer than white men, again, generally because screenings are overlooked.
Once again, being Black at the doctor’s office proves to be a dangerous game. With our historically damaged trust of the medical community and gaping disparities for preventable and treatable diseases, Black men have to be as diligently aware of their health status as Black women, even for a disease that seems unlikely.
Along with Black men, and men in general, another often-overlooked affected demographic is transgender women. As more transgender women opt to forgo surgery and instead take gender-confirming hormone therapies, their chance of breast cancer increases as well. Based on a case study of 2,260 transgender women, the rate of breast cancer compared to cisgender men was almost 50% higher.
Not only does breast cancer generally fall below the radar of most men, but it also carries a stigma that could deter them. The pink ribbons and female-focused language could be a barrier when it comes to bringing these difficult topics up. Pulling more men into the conversation is another step in the right direction for our entire community.
Despite the rarity in occurrence, breast cancer should absolutely be added to the list of illnesses that Black men remain diligently aware of, not just for their own health but for the health of the children they have or may one day have.
In his public plea for awareness, Matthew Knowles also said his diagnosis prompted his family members to be screened for the BRCA2 gene mutation that caused his breast cancer.
“This is genetics, it also means that my kids have a higher chance, a higher risk. Even my grandkids have a higher risk,” Matthew told Strahan during his interview, “And they handled it like they should, they went and got the test.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, genetic testing can be done to screen for the three leading gene mutations that cause breast cancer, BRCA1, BRCA2 and PALB2.
These tests are covered by most insurance companies and even several state Medicaid programs. But the catch is men have to ask the right questions.
Even young Black men should ask their family members about medical history and check with their doctor about risk factors and whether they need to be screened for gene mutations.
Knowing that our symptoms and pain are often overlooked by color-blind doctors, our first line of defense in surviving breast cancer -- no matter what gender, no matter what age -- is to ask questions and stay informed.
(Photo: ER Productions Limited)