A dad has told how he became the youngest man in Britain to have a double mastectomy after he lost two male relatives to breast cancer.
Giles Cooper, 56, was devastated when doctors told him he had the same strain of cancer which killed his dad and uncle.
Just 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, less than one per cent of the 55,000 women that suffer from it every year.
Mr Cooper, a chartered surveyor, had a double mastectomy to save his own life and is now urging men to check themselves regularly for lumps in their breasts.
Mr Cooper, who lives with wife Nicola, 51, in Conderton, near Tewkesbury, Glos., lost his dad Stephen to breast cancer in 2004 who died aged 77.
Two years later, Mr Cooper’s uncle Christopher, who was Stephen’s brother, died of the same disease, also aged 77.
After their deaths, Mr Cooper had regular check-ups but in August 2014 he discovered a small lump, which doctors discovered was grade 2 invasive cancer which had spread to both breasts.
Weeks later he became the youngest male patient to undergo a double mastectomy when he went under the knife at Cheltenham’s Nuffield Hospital.
The procedure left him without nipples and a sizeable scar that runs from one side to the other.
He said: “I decided to have the double mastectomy because I was still relatively young and I didn’t want to be facing the same problem in five or ten years’ time.
“I think the anaesthetist summed it up when he said just before I went under, that it was the first time he’d put to sleep a man for this op in 20 years.
“The disease is rare and I was told I am the youngest patient in Britain to have undergone a double mastectomy.
“In my family I have had my father and his brother both die from breast cancer, which is very rare.
“But for me to have had it too, for there to have been three cases in one family, is unheard of globally.”
Leading charity Breast Cancer Now is investing £1.8million into research to discover what gene causes the disease in men.
Mr Cooper is donating blood samples to the charity to help them discover more about the disease.
He added: “Obviously my blood sample is going to be pretty unique so it’s one that they want to study in quite a lot of depth.”
“Part of the problem is that some men simply don’t realise that it’s possible to have breast cancer, because they think they have ‘man boobs’ instead of breasts.
“If I walk into the pub and tell people that I’ve had breast cancer, they fall off their bar stools.
“Just from talking to people and telling them my story, people have stopped me and said ‘oh, I didn’t realise male breast cancer was a problem, that’s really useful to know’.
“It’s only 350 or so men that are affected every year, but it’s a huge kick in the teeth to those 350 families, especially given that the prognosis is significantly worse for men with breast cancer than it is for women.
“My father was part of the generation that did not talk about medical problems. You had to be dying before you went to a doctor. People simply didn’t sit round the table and talk about these things.
“By the time he discovered that he had the cancer it was far too late, and frankly I didn’t really want to talk to him about it because there was so little chance of him surviving.
“When my uncle died alarm bells started to ring. It acted as a warning to me.
“Fortunately when I was diagnosed with cancer it was an early enough stage that it could be treated.
“But if I’m being honest, if I hadn’t had that awareness of the disease from my father and uncle, then I probably wouldn’t have noticed until it was too late.
“That’s why it’s so important for men to check. If you see your wife or girlfriend routinely checking for lumps, then you should be too.
“You only have to spend 30 seconds doing it every so often, and it can make all the difference.
“Cancerous lumps in male breasts sit behind the nipple so its important for men to check regularly.
“The makeup of male breasts and female breasts are actually very similar but because men often discover they have cancer too late, it’s much more difficult to treat.”
After his operation, Mr Cooper underwent radiotherapy took the anti-oestrogen drug Tamoxifen to reduce the chances of the cancer returning.
He is also being offered genetic testing, to predict the likelihood of his children Freddie, 24 and Lottie, 22, developing the disease.
Men aren’t usually offered breast reconstruction but they can have their nipples reconstructed surgically or tattooed on.
Mr Cooper said: “I’m not quite sure what to do.
“A lot of men would probably think ‘why bother’, but when I look at myself at night, there is this whacking great scar and it does look a bit odd.”
In the early noughties, I was in a busy IT office, where one lady was scrounging for a breast-cancer charity. I told her that I had a lump and asked if men can get breast cancer. After all, men have breasts! You would have to imagine the response that I received.
I was not found to be an inquisitive person, with a reasonable question to answer.
Apparently, I was the fool for asking such a foolish question.