Male breast cancer has long existed in the shadow of a disease that largely affects women, but former New York Legis. Cameron Alden says it's time for that to change.
She is Gail Lizardy-King, a 37-year survivor. Dozens of students and community members are expected to follow them in the walk.
"The primary focus should be on the women because women are more affected by it," Alden said. "But I am the other part of that story -- the part that says men can get breast cancer, too."
The American Cancer Society estimates 230,480 women in the United States will develop breast cancer this year and a dramatically smaller number of men -- about 1 percent, or 2,304 -- will also be diagnosed with the disease.
The lower incidence among men doesn't mean the disease develops differently or is treated with a different drug cocktail. Breast cancer is breast cancer, doctors say.
Alden, 61, of Islip, was 39 when he felt a lump that he instantly knew was abnormal. He had trouble, however, persuading his physician to run tests to confirm the growth as cancer.
"The doctor kept saying it was a cyst and he kept scheduling me to come in to have it drained," Alden said.
Months passed before he finally received a proper diagnosis and underwent a mastectomy.
Dr. Larry Norton, physician in chief for breast cancer programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, said time is of the essence when a lump is found.
"Early diagnosis is important for men, just as it is for women," said Norton, one of the world's leading experts in breast cancer research and treatment. "The earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome."
Alden said his grandmother and an aunt on his father's side of the family had breast cancer, and the disease affected women on his mother's side as well. None of the large epidemiologic studies on Long Island have examined the incidence of the cancer in men. Norton said a genetic propensity for breast cancer can be passed to sons as readily as to daughters. When mutated, he added, the gene BRCA2 can lead to breast cancer in men or women, and also plays a role in prostate cancer.
But other factors, Norton said, have been associated with male breast cancer: Men with large breasts are more likely to develop the disease, as are those who've had excessive exposure to the female hormone estrogen.
Alden, a community development attorney who teaches part-time at Dowling, served in the state Assembly from 1998 to 2010. He spoke recently to a group of Dowling athletes as part of his efforts to raise awareness about male breast cancer.
"I told them you can get cancer anywhere on your body," Alden said. "There should be no stigma to say 'I am a man and I had breast cancer.' "