James Richards has launched the UK's first male breast cancer organisation 'Moobs' following his stage-three diagnosis with the disease in February.
Richards, 37, who is currently undergoing treatment, aims to help raise awareness of the disease among men (and that there is absolutely no shame in having it), challenge the language used by charities and the media around breast cancer, and ensure men don't miss out on life-saving information with it often perceived as a 'female-only' cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with around 55,000 new diagnoses in women each year. However, often overlooked are the near 400 new cases of male breast cancer annually.
While the chances of surviving breast cancer are generally good, with men anecdotally less likely to visit their GP than their female counterparts couples with misconceptions about who it can affect, could lead to more deaths in males.
"I had absolutely no symptoms apart from a small pea-sized lump that I discovered in a work meeting when I folded my arms. A colleague had encouraged me to visit my GP, but it still took about four weeks before I thought about booking an appointment, because who ever heard of a man having breast cancer?", says Richards, having only previously been aware of the risks of prostate and testicular cancer.
"Fortunately, I was diagnosed quickly but it highlighted that there is a massive awareness problem around breast cancer in men – and this partly due to the language in which the disease is talked about."
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Due to not initially thinking breast cancer could affect him, Richards wasn't that phased by having a lump in his peck. It was only when he received a diagnosis and realised help wasn't really tailored for him, that he felt particularly alone.
"I really wasn’t concerned at all. I went back to the gym to help shift those Christmas pounds and assumed I had just overdone it – particularly as the lump was painful," he recalls.
"The impact of the breast cancer diagnosis didn’t really hit me until I was given the literature from the hospital. I scanned the page and the first bullet point was advising me to wear a loose-fitting bra. As I continued to read the pamphlet I realised that almost none of the advice was applicable to me as a man. Cancer is isolating enough, but this feeling was only exacerbated by the lack of tailored support for men."
Despite having to navigate a diagnosis in healthcare that didn't feel suitable for him, Richards is thankful he went to his doctor that day.
"Whilst I was waiting for results I was told to prepare for a terminal diagnosis, which shocked me as the lump was very small. Fortunately this didn’t turn out to be the case; however, If I hadn’t have gone to the GP at that time this could well have spread.
"This highlighted the importance to me of booking an appointment as soon as you find anything suspicious."
And with him dealing with so much himself, what made him want to help others too? "In an ideal world, I don’t want to be setting up this organisation - and I hope that eventually moobs will cease to exist because we’ve successfully challenged the way we talk about breast cancer.
"Until then, I have no choice but to ensure that I spread the message, change the conversation and ultimately help save lives."
Read more: How to check for lumps as Elizabeth Hurley discusses importance of being 'breast-aware' (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)
Male breast cancer signs
TV doctors Dr Amir Khan and Dr Zoe Williams have supported the launch of Moobs.
"Without raising awareness of male breast cancer, many of these incidences won’t be caught until it’s too late. We hope that moobs will help instigate change by challenging the language around the disease and encouraging men to check their pecs [done similarly to women] and book an appointment if they find anything suspicious [or different to usual]," says Khan.
The main symptom of breast cancer in men is a lump in the breast, according to the NHS. The nipple of skin may also be affected.
Cancerous breast lumps typically:
only happen in one breast
grow under or around the nipple
are painless (but in rare cases they can hurt)
feel hard or rubbery
do not move around within the breast
feel bumpy rather than smooth
get bigger over time