Breast cancer isn’t a ladies-only disease, but the current research offerings might make you think so. There just aren’t enough male volunteers signing up for clinical trials.
Male breast cancer doesn’t attract the same legion of activists that female breast cancer does, according to the Daily Beast, so the Food and Drug Administration is pushing to include more men in clinical trials.
Breast cancer is “about 100 times less common among men than among women, according to officials at the National Cancer Institute.” Still, nearly 2,360 American men will be diagnosed in 2014 and around 430 of them will die. That might not sound like much, the numbers are less than those whose deaths are caused by asthma for example, but that also creates a dearth of information on male breast cancer. If men don’t volunteer for research trials, it’s tough to craft medicine targeting how the disease manifests in the male body.
While males and females generally respond to the same chemotherapy or radiation regimens, Dr. Tatiana Prowell, a breast cancer scientific lead at the FDA's Office of Hematology & Oncology Products, notes it’s possible that successful treatments could differ between genders.
“We won’t know until more men are included in breast cancer clinical trials,” she said.
Many experimental drugs are only available through trials, but men usually learn their diagnosis at a later stage when it's too late to participate in a trial. Later-stage diagnoses also mean that the cancer has more time to spread to other local areas of the body. In addition, some drugs used to treat breast cancer tinker with hormones, which presents a problem for men taking cycles that were crafted for women.
Most importantly, most men don’t think to check their breasts for telltale signs.
“There’s more of a stigma for men to report anything in their breast,” Dr. Meyers said. “[Men] aren’t really thinking ‘breast cancer’ when they feel a lump.”
The FDA's program to recruit more marginalized groups in clinical trials across the board — besides women, minorities and kids — now includes men.
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