Men can get breast cancer too

Ismailian Fife, 58, is a survivor of both breast and prostate cancer.

One in 1 249 men has a lifetime risk of breast cancer and, according to the provincial health department, 1 to 3% of all breast cancers happen in men.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Ismailian Fife, 58, previously from Lansdowne and now living in Kenilworth, spoke about his experience with both prostate and breast cancer.

In 2003, when Mr Fife felt pain in his testicles and struggled to urinate, he consulted a urologist, at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont, who diagnosed him with a kidney infection after scans showed scarring on the lining of his kidney and blood in his urine.

But Mr Fife’s condition deteriorated over the next eight months and he noticed he had developed a bad body odour and was starting to sweat uncontrollably. He returned to the urologist who told him his prostate was hard and enlarged. After two biopsies, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2004.

He received radiation for three weeks followed by chemotherapy, which brought on nausea, weight and hair loss.

“My skin started drying, I was losing so much weight, smells triggered nausea, and I kept vomiting, but nothing came out,” he says. “I went into depression and I received treatment for that. It was difficult, it’s not something I would like to go through again.”

To make sure that all of the cancer was gone, Mr Fife went for hormone treatment, which was successful but left him infertile. He went for regular check-ups and by 2007 he was in remission.

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), 1 in 18 South African men will develop prostate cancer. The risk of being diagnosed with this type of cancer can be reduced by not smoking, eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight.

Mr Fife’s encounter with cancer wasn’t over. In August 2008, he was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Experiencing extreme itching of his right nipple in May that year, he consulted his general practitioner who placed him on medication. Soon after, fluid started coming out of his nipple and it also started swelling. In July 2008, he went to Christiaan Barnard Hospital for a biopsy and within 48 hours he was diagnosed with breast cancer. There was a tumour in his right breast.

“I was in denial,” he says of his reaction to the diagnosis. “I said, ’Men don’t get breast cancer.’ I was frustrated, I was disappointed that I hadn’t done my research and I had only focused on prostate cancer, but then I did my research and got clued up on breast cancer.”

Two weeks later, Mr Fife started radiation treatment hoping to shrink the tumour but it had no effect, so he went for a lumpectomy, an operation in which a lump is removed from the breast, followed by more radiation therapy.

He experienced mood swings, nausea, and hair loss. However, by 2012, following regular check-ups, he was in remission and has been cancer free ever since.

Mr Fife says couples need to be comfortable enough with each other to speak up if they notice a lump or bump on their partners’ bodies and they should encourage each other to look after their health.

“The biggest problem men have is trying to be macho and think that these things will never affect you. A lot has to do with faith and culture. A lot of people see cancer as a curse, as someone not worth marrying or as someone not allowed in a place of worship, and we need to rid this because this is why people and men especially don’t get tested.”

Men must take their health more seriously and stop thinking they can’t get cancer, he says.

“We need to change our attitudes about cancer and males being diagnosed with cancer. Get tested every six months, take note of your bodies. The danger lies in the older men, and they are the ones most neglectful of their health.”

For more information about cancer, call Cansa at 0800 22 6622 or email