Peter Criss, the 63-year old ex drummer and founding member of rock band KISS is talking to various media outlets this month, National Breast Cancer Awareness month, about how he was diagnosed and successfully treated for breast cancer last year. He wants men to be aware that it is not an exclusively female disease and if they spot a lump they should not be ashamed to get it checked straight away. Criss said he was convinced that in his case, getting prompt medical attention saved his life.

On his website Criss writes that men can get breast cancer too.

“Don’t be afraid to let someone know if you have a lump,” he says, explaining that he was diagnosed in ’08 and attributes his survival to early detection and:

“My great doctor Alex Swistel & staff and the Lord above, who always looks over me …”

“Do the right thing for you and your loved ones and get it checked. Man or woman, there is no discrimination with breast cancer … we all don’t have nine lives,” writes Criss, who is also known to his fans as Catman.

In an interview with CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen, Criss, who is now cancer free, called himself “the luckiest man in the planet” because as soon as he noticed a lump he did something about it and it saved his life.

Criss is a frequent gym user, and said he spotted the painful lump in his left breast after a workout in 2007. He said going to the gym and having been a drummer since he was a kid made him very aware of his body, and when he spotted the lump he said to himself “Jesus, what’s this thing?”

He spoke to his wife, who was also fighting cancer at the time, but not breast cancer, and then went straight to the doctor. He had surgery in February 2008 to remove what surgeons thought was a harmless nodule but later analysis revealed it to be breast cancer.

He recalled being very angry about it, he said he “flipped out”, it was “a nightmare”.

“I couldn’t believe I had this. I was a really angry guy for a long time,” he told CNN.

Like many people, Criss was not aware that men could also get breast cancer. His advice to men who find a lump in their breast is:

“Don’t sit around playing Mr Tough Guy.”

He said you should not pretend it is going to just go away, “It might not and you might not see life anymore and how beautiful that is,” he added.

Dr Sharon Giordano, associate professor of medicine in the breast medical oncology department of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, explained to CNN that men have some degree of residual breast tissue and are therefore also susceptible to breast cancer.

Less than 1 per cent of breast cancer cases are in men, and estimates from the National Cancer Institute suggest that in 2009 there will be 1,910 new cases of breast cancer and 440 deaths among men.

Some experts suggest men are more likely to die of the disease because they are not routinely screened and don’t get diagnosed early enough.

Although he is now cancer free, Criss goes for a mammogram and a checkup every year. He says he is now over his anger and just feels grateful.

In 1991 at the age of 58, John W Nick, a family man from Long Island, New York, died of breast cancer. In 1995, his family set up a foundation in his name to help raise awareness about male breast cancer and to help men with breast cancer get in touch with each other.

Nick consulted doctors three times in eight years and they told him his symptoms were nothing to worry about. By the time breast cancer was diagnosed, the cancer had spread. The diagnosis was was male breast cancer Paget’s Disease. After a mastectomy and treatment he went into remission, but this only lasted for six months before the cancer eventually spread to his bones and he lost the fight.

— more info on male breast cancer (John W Nick Foundation)

Source: CNN, Peter Criss website, John W. Nick Foundation.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD