When Robert Viola was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, he says it felt like a “cold chill came over my body”.
Since a young age, Robert had been fighting cancer in various forms, starting with childhood leukaemia in 1984 which required a full bone marrow transplant and body irradiation.
After decades of good health, being diagnosed with breast cancer was a kick in the teeth.
“The symptoms started with some irregular clear discharge from my right nipple,” he says. “This soon increased in regularity.”
Robert says it quickly became obvious that there was a problem when the discharge became bloody.
“It took about a month to be diagnosed,” he says. “I had an ultrasound and then a mammogram followed by a core biopsy which showed a 2.8 centimetre grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma in the right breast.”
A secondary cancer tumour [carcinoma]was also found.
“They told me the carcinoma was most likely the result of exposure to radiation treatment for leukaemia a child,” he says.
Robert underwent a double-mastectomy to save his life, and now he is sharing his story to raise awareness of the incidence of male breast cancer in Australia.
Both men and women can develop breast cancer, as both men and women have breast tissue behind the nipple, the Cancer Council explains.
“Women have a lot more breast tissue than men — and a much higher rate of breast cancer,” the website explains. “Cancers can, however, occur in male breast tissue.”
In 2014, 140 men were diagnosed with breast cancer and as the population ages, the organisation says we are likely to see a gradual increase in the number of Australian men diagnosed with the disease.
“It is therefore increasingly important to provide information and support to affected men and their families,” they state.
In 2016, 28 men died of breast cancer in Australia.
Symptoms of male breast cancer are similar to those for women and can include:
- a breast lump;
- thickening of the breast tissue;
- dimpling of the skin of the breast;
- change in shape of the breast or nipple;
- a discharge from the nipple;
- a painful area;
- swollen lymph nodes in the armpit area.
Robert says he wants to “break the stigma” that breast cancer is a ‘women’s cancer’ by helping men realise they are not alone, so they seek treatment early.
“When you mention breast cancer it’s mostly associated with women, and men don’t think they too can develop it,” he says, explaining that this stigma can result in a dangerous delay in treatment.
Whether you are a man or a woman, if you feel something isn’t right with your body, don’t hesitate to seek help because of something you have heard, read or because you feel embarrassed or alone,” he says.
“The sooner you seek help the better.”
Robert says if there is a diagnosis, to “stay positive” and “never give up”.
“Medicines and treatments continue to improve and together we can work together at beating cancer,” he says.