Health Team

Breast cancer can strike men – and their children

Posted October 24, 2008

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— Each year, thousands of men are diagnosed with a disease most people think affects only women – breast cancer.

One family learned the hard way that not only can men get breast cancer, they can also pass it down to their children.

Arnaldo Silva thought a mistake had been made when he was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I told the doctor, I said, 'You're reading the chart wrong. I've never heard of a man having breast cancer,'" Arnaldo Silva said.

Men make up 1 percent of all breast cancer patients. A genetic mutation usually causes the disease to strike men, most often between the ages of 60 and 70.

"There are genes out there called the BRCA genes, and if you have this gene, you have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer," said Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum-Smith, an attending breast surgeon at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

Arnaldo Silva had that gene, so his children were at risk for the cancer.

"Breast cancer can absolutely be inherited from both the mother and father's side of the family," Rosenbaum-Smith said.

Arnaldo Silva's daughter, Vanessa, got tested. She found out that she had the gene – and had already developed breast cancer.

"That was the second most devastating news I heard," Arnaldo Silva said.

Father and daughter had their surgeries months apart but went to chemotherapy together.

"Just having someone there, that support, it felt really good – especially my dad," Vanessa Silva said.

Both Silvas have gone into remission and started feeling strong again.

Vanessa Silva said that she was glad she could be there for her father, because not as much support is available to male breast-cancer patients.

"If I had questions, I could go online, and another woman would tell me, 'Well, this is what I went through,'" Vanessa Silva said. "But I couldn't find that for my father."

Arnaldo Silva said that he hopes to change that dynamic, but that he expects that raising awareness will be an uphill battle, because the disease is so rare among men.

"I just want the same awareness," Arnaldo Silva said. "When they talk about women's breast cancer, include us.

"Because we're there. We're out here, and we need the help."


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