Men and Breasts

Hi Ladies all, and gentlemen
As a partner volunteer I was equested to write a short article about being a partner volunteer for the Brest Cancer Care Cymru magazine. I reproduce it below and would welcome your comments.

Some thoughts about being a Partner Volunteer

Let’s face it, men do not understand breasts. O.K. we all know what they are, what they are for and that they can vary greatly. We also find them attractive to a greater or lesser degree.

However when it comes to problems with them it is a different situation. No man can possibly know the physical, emotional and psychological problems brought on by the diagnosis and treatment of Breast Cancer.

A woman diagnosed with or undergoing treatment for breast cancer will often appear to her partner to be behaving totally out of character. This is not surprising given that she has suffered what is probably the biggest shock of her life. At this time it is up to him to adjust his role within the partnership to accommodate the changed situation.

I consider that my role as a Partner Volunteer is to assist him in this re-adjustment process by exploring the changes which have been brought about in the relationship by the diagnosis and treatment, with particular emphasis on the patient’s needs. Within a strong partnership this may require little more than reassurance that whatever way the patient wishes to manage the disease she can obtain the necessary support to do so via a number of agencies, and that this is the correct procedure to follow. A less strong partnership may need guidance and help to come to terms with what the partner may see as a role reversal, as the patient starts to manage the cancer in her own way.

I am of the opinion that the prime message to a partner must be that it is the patient’s disease, and she must manage it as she sees fit, taking into account the advice she will be given by various medical professionals. The partner must support her in this management process or he will only disrupt it to the possible breakdown of the partnership. This especially so if the patient is in contact with Breast Cancer Care or some other support group which helps to empower her to control the disease her way.

There have been very few referrals to Partner Volunteers. From the original group of 12 there are only five or six of us now, and it appears that more are not needed, except to replace those that leave. We certainly are not overworked! It is to be hoped that this is because partners of Breast Cancer patients are fulfilling their role adequately and we are not needed, but I often suspect that it is because women are managing their Breast Cancer despite their partners, not with them

Hi There

You wrote “No man can possibly know the physical, emotional and psychological problems brought on by the diagnosis and treatment of Breast Cancer.”

I’m sorry to say that I do know, my breast cancer is in remission and it was a physical, emotional and psychological journey for and my family as well. . There is nothing in your article that suggests that breast cancer is not a gender specific disease - something I have been shouting a lot about for some time.

I do know that breast cancer in men is a rare thing in the UK but it does happen and you need to be aware of that. Your article is not serving the whole of the costituency that BCC strive to support.


Willy - if I read eskimosailor right she is referring to men who have not had BC but whose wives/partners have. There is a difference.

Hi Olivia

BCC has set up a system of “partner” volunteers. Steve’s article is supposed to be about that. My concern is that “partners” is not just husbands, male partners or female partners of women who have had breast cancer. The article should be inclusive and not exclusive, or at the very least give some reference to the fact that men do get brest cancer and may (do)have “partners” affected as well. That is not reflected in the language.


I think its dificult to make a statement that is meant for both sex’es, and while a male with BC may have specific problems, they are not the same as a woman, by the very nature that a womans feminity is very often centered around her body image, and that as woman we are inundated evryday by beautiful images, at a time when we feel our least attractive or desireable to our partners…Of course the ‘CANCER’ is the same, and the need for support and help during dx and treatments, is the same…and understanding how a man may feel about his own masculinity, if he has always thought of BC as being a ‘womans’ disease…and maybe he will feel embarrassed to tell people he has BC…these sort of upsets are as relevant to any sex…But a man cannot know how a woman feels to loose her breasts, one or two…he can only know how a man feels to loose his ‘breast’ tissue…We are built diferent to men, that is obvious…I would like any man who has had breast cancer to tell me to my face that if it was his wife, he would feel the same…that he would think the loss of her breast to be the same as his loss…
So while I think the dx of cancer is traumatic for all and everyone, the physical diferences cause diferent emotional problems…in the same way that the majority of men will accept loosing their hair, but it is totally horrendous for so many woman, that on first being told they have cancer and have to have chemo the cancer takes a back seat, very often, to the hair loss…of course over time most of us come to tems with it…only because we learn to live with it…having no choice, and we know it will return…not so our feminine soft breast…I have read about some of the woman on these sites who cope very well with the breast loss, and see that it is getting rid of the cancer and saving their lives…in fact my own aunt is one such lady dx at 65 she has come to terms with loosing her breast very well, and I am very pleased for her…because she is right…for her it is not a big issue …for me it is a massive issue…am I wrong? if so so are a lot of other woman…
Also for some partners the loss of the ‘Breast’ can be a problem…for some couples they are part of the attraction and sexual side of their relationship…whereas a mans ‘breast’ are just his ‘chest’ and play no part in intimacy…we all know what I am trying to say…


I’m trully sorry if I was a bit vague here. Of course I am well aware that men also suffer from breast cancer. I have been working with Breast Cancer Care for about 15 years now and was one of the first group of Partner Volunteers. My article, for Breast Cancer Cymru monthly newsletter, was provided at the request of a local organiser.
It was intended to reflect some of my experiences with talking to partners of breast cancer sufferers. Unfortunately I have had no experience of breast cancer in men and cannot, and certainly would not, comment on the subject.
Thank you for your comments Jax, very well put. They said a lot about what I believed to be the case, but as a man am unable to make such statements.
In retrospect I should perhaps have explained my position more clearly. Once again my apologies if I have upset anyone.