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Men Can Get Breast Cancer, But Not Coverage

August 9, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging, Medical Ethics
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A 26-year-old breast cancer patient with no health insurance and a $9-an-hour job faces medical bills that will probably total hundreds of thousands of dollars. The patient doesn’t qualify for regular Medicaid but would be eligible for financial help under a federal program for low-income sufferers of breast or cervical cancer.

Would be eligible, that is, except that the patient is Raymond Johnson. A man.

The wording of the law setting up the program restricts it to women. Catherine Paddock, PhD, of Medical News Today writes that, in April 2010, the same law blocked Scott Cunningham, a 45-year-old unemployed and uninsured man from Marion, North Carolina, from getting breast cancer screening at a clinic that offered free mammograms. Cunningham’s father and mother both had the disease.

Johnson, a construction worker from Cross, South Carolina, near Charleston, had noticed a lump but thought it was a cyst. Over the July 4 weekend, the pain got so bad that he went to an emergency room. A CT scan and a biopsy confirmed cancer. Surgery at Charleston Cancer Center removed a tumor the size of a baseball.

Johnson is now undergoing chemotherapy, at about $10,000 per round, according to patient advocate Susan Appelbaum, who has been trying to get him some financial aid.

Johnson’s plight has burst across the national news media since the Charleston ABC TV affiliate broadcast a story about him last week. (You can see that story here.) It seems likely that the publicity will generate financial relief from some source or sources, public or private.

But, as Johnson said during a video interview done by The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston:

Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter what age, color, raceā€”or male or female. Men have breast cancer too.

About 2,000 U.S. men get it every year, in fact. It seems weirdly, and cruelly, bureaucratic to deny coverage to a tiny handful of low-income men who need help, basing that denial on language that is sex-specific not because its framers wanted to deny coverage to men but rather because, almost certainly, they had no idea that breast cancer might affect men.

Johnson himself is displaying remarkable serenity. Or bravery. “I’m not letting myself get down about the bills or anything else,” he told the newspaper, “because I know if I let myself get down like that, that will only cause me more stress and make me sicker than I am.”

Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Intervention: A Comprehensive Review (free shipping and handling)

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