Man’s mam­mo­gram

Re­porter gets test usu­ally done on women

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - AN­DREW DAL­TON

PASADENA, CALIF. — When I ar­rived for my first mam­mo­gram it didn’t take long for my sense of se­crecy to shat­ter. Be­hind the counter were five young women, un­oc­cu­pied and anx­ious to help.

“An­drew Dal­ton, ap­point­ment for 8:45,” I say. “What for?” one asks. With five sets of eyes on me, I say, “Mam­mo­gram,” maybe a lit­tle too loudly, try­ing to prove I’m un­em­bar­rassed to be a man get­ting a pro­ce­dure al­most ex­clu­sively done on women.

“Oh,” one says, “that’s over at the breast cen­tre.” Of course. The breast cen­tre. On one level, this is a world I know all too well. My fam­ily is fraught with breast cancer: My mom had it twice and died from it, and my big sis­ter had it. My daugh­ter, now 13, has the same his­tory on her mother’s side.

But I found when it came to the de­tails and re­al­i­ties, I knew noth­ing. Here are a few things I learned: • Men have a small amount of breast tis­sue, sim­i­lar to girls be­fore pu­berty. Like any set of cells, it can be­come can­cer­ous.

• Breast cancer is about 100 times more com­mon in women, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Cancer So­ci­ety. About 2,500 new cases of in­va­sive breast cancer will be di­ag­nosed in U.S. men in 2017, and about 460 will die from it.

• Men’s symp­toms are the same as women’s: Lumps or thick­en­ing in breast tis­sue, changes to breast skin, nip­ple dis­charge.

My per­sonal ed­u­ca­tion be­gan a week ear­lier with a rou­tine phys­i­cal, when I told my doc­tor of a slight pain near my lymph nodes. Be­cause of my fam­ily his­tory, she wanted a breast ul­tra­sound.

The lab de­cided a mam­mo­gram would be more use­ful.

I’m happy af­ter check-in to see five men among the 20 peo­ple in the wait­ing room. Then I no­tice each is with a woman who pre­sum­ably is the one ready­ing for a mam­mo­gram.

I’m also told I’ll get an in­stant read­ing af­ter­ward. I was only braced for the process, not the di­ag­no­sis. This sends me scram­bling to group-text my sis­ters and girl­friend, all of whom have been through this, and whose sup­port is a per­fect hand­hold.

“Hugs! Yeah, they typ­i­cally tell you while you’re there, if it’s di­ag­nos­tic and not a rou­tine checkup,” my sis­ter Emily writes.

I wish I’d asked them more be­fore. I get emo­tional as I wait, imagining how of­ten my mother sat through days like this, and worse.

A dis­creet nurse sum­mons me into a small room. The med­i­cal tech­ni­cian looks at my but­ton­down shirt and tells me I don’t have to take it off, just open it.

If there’s one thing I thought I knew about mam­mo­grams, it’s that it’s al­ways a top­less af­fair. I ask if she gets many men. “Just had one yes­ter­day,” she says. “I get a few a month.”

The ma­chine looks like a com­bi­na­tion den­tal X-ray and Ge­orge Fore­man Grill. I stand di­ag­o­nal to it. She po­si­tions my “breast” between the two plates.

I can see this would be eas­ier if you had more “grab­bable” breasts. She has to kind of squeeze my chest to “cre­ate” a breast, as a shirt­less boy would, goof­ing off for his friends. Then the ma­chine it­self squeezes down.

I have a twinge of pain, but as med­i­cal pro­ce­dures go it barely counts as un­com­fort­able.

She takes two im­ages on the right, then two, each at a dif­fer­ent an­gle, on the left, where the prob­lem was. It’s over re­mark­ably quickly.

The mo­ment of truth ar­rives within 10 min­utes: The ra­di­ol­o­gist says I don’t have cancer.

The prob­lem is com­mon gy­neco­mas­tia, a slight ex­cess of breast tis­sue. Its causes are many, its con­se­quences few. I let loose a sigh of re­lief, but I’m mostly ex­cited to spread the good news to the rest of the fam­ily. We’ve had too lit­tle of it when it comes to breast cancer.

My re­lief is sweet but brief. I re­al­ize all I’ve done is dodged one ex­tremely rare cancer. All the ruth­less ev­ery­day ones com­mon for men — prostate, col­orec­tal, tes­tic­u­lar — loom large as ever.


As­so­ci­ated Press re­porter An­drew Dal­ton holds an im­age of his mam­mo­gram.

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