Brain Doctor Becomes Study Subject After Rare Male Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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A doctor more accustomed to studying cancer under a microscope has become a study subject himself due to a rare diagnosis of male breast cancer.

Dr. Oliver Bogler, a professor of neurosurgery and senior vice president of academic affairs at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, spent much of his professional life studying cancer tumors.

But when he found a lump in his chest in 2012, Bogler, like many other patients, at first tried to convince himself it wasn't cancer.

"I observed it for a few months, I worried about it I looked up things online," he told ABC News, noting that he at first hoped it would go away. "It certainly refused to go away. I finally decided to get it checked out."

A primary care doctor referred Bogler to an oncologist, who confirmed he had breast cancer, which is extremely rare in men. Just 1 percent of breast cancer patients are male, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It was pretty shocking. It was a moment you don’t forget when you have cancer," Bogler said.

Even though he had years of in-depth knowledge about cancer, he said getting his diagnosis is "a very fundamental shift in your life."

Bogler had actually been through the process before. His wife was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer years earlier. Now going through his own treatment, Bogler was surprised his treatment plan was similar to his wife's plan from years earlier.

"I very quickly realized that the male disease is an orphan disease in the sense that there wasn't primary research on men," he explained. "The treatment my wife received and what [I]received were practically identical."

Bogler explained that because there are so few male breast cancer patients, doctors extrapolate care plans based on data gleaned from female patients. While the chemotherapy treatment and radiation was effective for Bogler, he was surprised at how few research trials on breast cancer gave men even the possibility in participating.

About 2,350 men are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year, compared to 231,840 women, according to the American Cancer Society. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is 1 in 1,000, compared to 1 in 8 for women.

Bogler's own research showed that about two-thirds of studies on breast cancer exclude men. He is now on a mission to get doctors to consider male breast cancer patients in their research and treatment plans.

"One of the things I’m advocating for is as they design clinical trials, if they choose to exclude men, they should have a good sound reason to exclude men," Bogler said.

He said he knows many researchers will use previous templates when writing a new study, so they don't think about including men. Bogler has already spoken to the American Society of Breast Surgeons and has actively started participating in trials. He's had tissue sent to be part of various studies and is currently in an immunotherapy trial at MD Anderson, where he was treated and where he works.

He said it will be key to raise awareness about the disease among men, so that they consider getting checked out. While it's a small percentage of overall cases, men often do not do as well as female breast cancer patients because they are diagnosed at a later stage.

"We also need to educate the medical professionals," to raise awareness, he said. "It’s going to be a long-term thing and be hugely important."