Richard Roundtree Speaks Out About Breast Cancer
Richard Roundtree, a male breast cancer survivor, speaks out about the disease.
Dec. 20, 2007— -- When Richard Roundtree was diagnosed with cancer in 1993, he was bowled over.
"The doctor told me, 'You have breast cancer,'" recalls Roundtree, who played John Shaft in the iconic 1971 film "Shaft." I heard the cancer part first -- it was only later that I heard the breast part. I couldn't believe it."
Roundtree found the lump while filming a movie in Costa Rica.
"It just didn't feel right," he says. "I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, so I decided to get it checked out when I was back in L.A."
For years after his diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, Roundtree kept quiet about his status as a cancer survivor.
"I was in the closet, so to speak, until after the fifth year when I was cancer free," he says.
While at a celebrity golf tournament to raise money for a mobile breast cancer diagnostic unit, Roundtree decided to spill the beans. "I just got up and told everybody that I was a breast cancer survivor. The room was totally silent," he says, laughing. "I think it dawned on people that men can be affected by this, too."
Male breast cancer comprises only 1 percent of all breast cancer cases -- not a surprising figure, since men's bodies contain only about 1 percent of the breast tissue found in women.
In 2007, there will be about 2,000 men diagnosed with breast cancer, compared with 178,000 women identified with the disease. Breast cancer in men most commonly appears as a lump, like the one Roundtree found in his left breast.
Talking about his status as a cancer survivor has prepared Roundtree, now 65, for a new role: awareness advocate for male breast cancer. He now spends part of his time traveling around the country and speaking to different groups about his experience.
"Not talking about my cancer was really tough," he says. "And now that I do talk about it all the time, it's really become a backhanded blessing. I was getting on a plane recently and a flight attendant ran up to me and said 'You saved my husband's life.'" Her husband had a lump in his chest and only agreed to get it checked out after she showed him an article about Roundtree.
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