Family breast cancer history? Men should pay attention, survivor says

Ben Porch with wife and doctor

Male breast cancer survivor encourages men to get genetic testing and screenings.

April 25, 2024

By Kiley Mallard

While the risk of breast cancer is relatively low for men, the odds go up for those who carry the BRCA2 gene mutation.
About a year ago, Ben Porch, 59, found himself in the latter category, diagnosed with male breast cancer after a routine mammogram.

“I was super lucky,” he says. His cancer was caught very early, and after surgery and hormone therapy, he is a survivor.

Now he is encouraging others with a family history of breast cancer to get genetic testing and, if they’re at risk, receive regular screenings.
“In my case, they caught it before it formed a lump, and they were able to remove it all before it got into the lymph nodes and spread,” he says.

Porch’s older sister died in 2019 after her second battle with breast cancer. A year later, his father noticed a lump on his chest while toweling off after a swim. He was soon diagnosed with male breast cancer.

After that, the entire family got tested for gene mutations that increase the risk of developing breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and melanoma. Both Porch and his father tested positive for the BRCA2 gene.

Porch began having annual mammograms.

His results were clear for the first two years. Then, in March 2023, something suspicious showed up.

“I went in for the mammogram, and when it was over, normally they’d say, ‘OK, thanks. We’ll send you the results.’ But this time, they said, ‘Could you sit here and wait for a minute? They might want more imaging,’” says Porch.

He was soon released and thought he was in the clear until he got a note saying he needed to schedule a biopsy.
The pathology report confirmed his worst fears. He had breast cancer.

Porch was referred for treatment to Dr. Angela Keleher, director of breast surgery at Tampa General Hospital and assistant professor in the Department of Surgery in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and her certified physician assistant, Marlee White, who specializes in breast surgery.

Ben Porch
Ben Porch talks to Dr. Angela Keleher

“They talked to me like I was a human being going through something traumatic. They made me feel like they understood what I was going through and that they would be with me through the process,” he says.

That comes from caring, says Keleher.

“We approach patient care with a focus on personalized treatment, taking the time to understand each individual as a whole. Our dedicated team collaborates to deliver comprehensive and compassionate care,” Keleher says.

White says it’s essential to provide that compassion.

“Patients call and they’re scared,” White says. “If you are able to bring that friendliness and that bedside manner as well as your skill, I feel like that’s why people want to continue to see us. We’re there for the patient.”

Porch had surgery in May 2023. Keleher removed the cancerous tissue and Dr. Jared Troy, a board-certified plastic surgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, handled the reconstruction.

Keleher notes that reconstruction is offered to patients of all genders. Men in Florida, for instance, are more likely to go shirtless at the pool or the beach and have told her the visual outcome is important to them.

“That’s why it’s important to listen to their expectations for not only removing the breasts, but also for what they want to look like afterwards, for both men and women,” she says.

Since Porch’s cancer was caught so early and because of the type of breast cancer he had, he did not have to undergo radiation or chemotherapy. Instead, he was prescribed Tamoxifen by Dr. Victoria Rizk, a member of Tampa General’s oncology department. Tamoxifen inhibits hormones from fueling the growth of cancer cells.

Porch says his father, who underwent chemotherapy and immunotherapy because of a different pathology in his cancer cells, is also a survivor. He now recalls other male family members who may have had the disease but were undiagnosed. It brought home to Porch the importance of genetic testing for anyone with a family history of breast cancer.

The lifetime risk of breast cancer is only about 1 in 1,000 for men in the United States, compared to 1 in 8 for women. But for men who carry the BRCA2 gene mutation, those odds go up to about 20 to 70 in 1,000. 

“My advice is to do the genetic testing. If you have that mutation, even if you don’t develop cancer, there is a big chance you’ll pass it to your children,” who should also be tested, he says. “And if you’re positive, do the scans.”
Grateful for the care he received, Porch made a gift late last year to the Breast Clinical and Research Integrated Strategic Program (CRISP) Operating Fund at USF Health.

The donation will help with research projects and purchasing the latest equipment, Keleher says.

“We must strive to advance through innovation and research in order to provide our patients with state-of-the-art care that is tailored to their needs,” she says.

Porch hopes his gift will allow Keleher and her team to help future patients.

“I thought if I made a donation, that would help them diagnose other patients in similar situations or help make their surgical procedures easier with advanced technologies,” he says.

“I wanted to express my gratitude for how well they treated me, making what was a difficult situation as positive as it could be.”


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