Meet Dr. Fatima Cardoso, principal investigator of the International Male Breast Cancer Programme
Are you often confronted with male breast cancer patients in your daily clinical practice?
I would not say “often” because male breast cancer is actually a very rare disease. It represents about 1 % of all breast cancer cases and less than 1 % of all male cancers. However, I have always been concerned and interested by this rare disease and, since there are only a few experts in this field, colleagues often refer to me when they have male patients.
Do you see that men react very differently to the diagnosis, compared to women affected by the same disease?
Part of the reaction is of course similar for women and men. Cancer diagnosis is scary for everyone, and patients very often feel lost.
Additionally, men affected by breast cancer have to carry the burden of a rare disease, and a disease with a “female connotation”. Men often do not realize that they also can be affected by this disease and they are shocked when they hear the words “breast cancer”.
After the diagnosis, male patients have mixed reactions: some of them try to understand the disease and want to know more, whereas others prefer to hide it and do not feel at ease telling friends or family. In both cases, however, men often suffer additional stress when they learn from their doctor that little is known about the disease and that they will be treated like their female counterparts until we are able to better understand the disease and find a therapy tailored specifically to them.
What prompted you to set up the male breast cancer programme?
Up to now we do not know how to treat men affected by breast cancer; we extrapolate from the therapies given to women affected by the same disease. This has to change. The scientific community has to tackle that issue and awareness should be raised among scientists, but also among the advocacy world.
When I decided to start this project I faced huge difficulties to find support in the first years. No cooperative group was interested. Dr. Giordano was also very interested in this issue, so we joined our efforts and proposed the project to the BIG-NABCG collaboration. Under the auspices of BIG-NABCG, a working group made of European and American experts was created to set up the research programme.