If you think breast cancer is something that only women get, Edward J. Wilson has a tattoo he'd like you to see.
Wilson, a 56-year-old Seattle airline pilot, isn't shy about the life-like nipple tattoo on his left breast. While that might seem like a strange choice for a tattoo, for Wilson it replaces the nipple he lost when he had a mastectomy to remove a cancerous growth in June of 2000.
"You're always running up against the attitude that only women can get it," Wilson said of breast cancer. "Before one of my chemo sessions I was in the waiting room with my wife and one of the women there remarked how it was real nice her husband was there to support her. My wife laughed and said, 'He's the one that's messed up.'"
Wilson tells the story with a chuckle today, but he wasn't laughing nine years ago when he first felt the hardness under his left nipple. His doctor told him it was likely a condition called gynecomastia, an enlargement of male breast tissue common in teenage boys, but performed a biopsy to be sure.
The diagnosis revealed infiltrating ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. When the doctor told Wilson he may need a mastectomy, he remembers just "fogging up."
"He started rattling these things off, but I just didn't comprehend what was happening," Wilson said. "I asked him what would happen if we just held off. He said, 'Man, this thing will kill you.'"
Raising Awareness The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2009 about 1,910 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men in the United States and about 440 men will die from the disease.
Although male breast cancer accounts for only 1 percent of all breast cancer cases in the U.S., the incidence rate among males increased annually between 1975 and 2004. Because male breast cancer is so rare, delayed diagnosis often results in the disease proving more deadly for men.
Perhaps nobody knows that more than Nancy Nick, a Vero Beach, Fla., resident who started the John W. Nick Foundation 14 years ago in honor of father, John Nick, who died in 1991 from misdiagnosed breast cancer at the age of 58. The foundation, whose board counts Wilson among its members, is the nation's only charitable foundation focused on raising awareness of male breast cancer.
"I lost my father to male breast cancer because there wasn't sufficient awareness about how this disease impacts men," Nick said. "There is a tremendous need to increase male breast cancer awareness efforts across the country."