For a long time, Kenyan men fighting breast cancer have hidden their condition, embarrassed they are fighting a disease associated with women. Now, some doctors and patients are coming out and talking about the disease, in hopes of reducing the stigma.
Samuel Wachira is seated on a bench at the Kenyatta National Hospital's Oncology department. He is waiting for a file that belongs to his 78-year-old father, who is receiving chemotherapy.
His father, James Njuguna, started feeling sick in early 2014. They had to visit several hospitals before doctors at Kenyatta finally made the correct diagnosis, breast cancer.
“We started moving from hospital to hospital from August, it took us six months to be diagnosed with cancer but good enough it was diagnosed at stage one. But after treatment here at Kenyatta we are getting very positive results,” Wachira recalled.
A 'woman's disease'
Wachira said upon diagnosis, he and his father felt the stigma. Most people talked about breast cancer being a woman's disease, he said, and were afraid of not just of the disease, but of the family depending on them financially.
But Wachira said breast cancer is just like any other disease.
“Most of the people will desert you because they feel you will be asking for help. Very few people will be close to you if they hear you have a cancer patient. They should not be ashamed. It is just like any disease and anyone can get cancer,” he said.
Dr. Andrew Odhiambo, an oncologist at Kenyatta Hospital, said breast cancer in men is rare, but does exist.
“About one percent of all breast cancers will be in males and in some regions it is even less, even up to 0.5 percent, so for every 100 cases of breast cancer diagnosed, you might tumble upon one who is a male,” he explained.
Odhiambo said early detection in Kenya is hard, especially outside the cities.
“To make a diagnosis of cancer, especially if you are coming from the rural areas, the diagnostic capability is poor all through so that will affect both males and females the same," he said. "But it is true that most physicians will not imagine that a male could have breast cancer and therefore will be treated for fungal infections, boils and other diseases until it starts to look ugly."
According to Kenya’s Ministry of Health, every year more than 28,000 Kenyans die from various forms of cancer each year.
For men with breast cancer, doctors such as Odhiambo say that early diagnosis, treatment and emotional support from society would reduce the mortality rate.