Mathew Knowles opened up about his breast cancer diagnosis in an interview with Good Morning America.

By Arielle Tschinkel
October 02, 2019
Jim Smeal/Contributor/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and while we love to see so many pink products pop up to help remind women about the importance of early detection, it's easy to forget that it's not just women who can be impacted by breast cancer—men can, and do, get the disease. (Related: Must-Know Facts About Breast Cancer)

In a new interview with Good Morning America, Beyoncé and Solange Knowles' father, Mathew Knowles, revealed his battle with breast cancer.

He opened up about undergoing surgery to remove stage IA breast cancer, and how he knew he needed to see a doctor right away.

Knowles shared that over the summer, he'd noticed a "small recurring dot of blood" on his shirts, and his wife said she'd noticed the same blood spots on their bedsheets. He "immediately" went to his doctor for a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy, telling GMA host Michael Strahan: "It was very clear that I had breast cancer."

After confirming his diagnosis, Knowles had surgery in July. During that time, he also learned through genetic testing that he has a BRCA2 gene mutation, which puts him at high risk for developing—in addition to breast cancer—prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. (Related: Study Finds Five New Breast Cancer Genes)

Fortunately, the 67-year-old has been successfully recovering from his surgery, calling himself a "survivor of breast cancer." But having a BRCA2 mutation means he'll need to remain "very much aware and conscious" of his risk of developing these other cancers, he explained on GMA. This could mean undergoing regular prostate exams, mammograms, MRIs, and routine skin checks for the rest of his life.

Following his recovery, Knowles told GMA that he's now focusing on keeping his family vigilant about their own cancer risks, as well as fighting the stigma many men face when it comes to developing breast cancer. (Related: You Can Now Test for BRCA Mutations at Home—But Should You?)

He told Strahan that "the very first call"  he made after receiving his diagnosis was to his family, because not only could his own four children potentially be carrying a BRCA gene mutation, but his four grandchildren, too.

Especially given the common misconception that breast cancer—and what it means to have a BRCA gene mutation—is something that only impacts women, Knowles hopes that men (and black men in particular) hear his story, learn to stay on top of their own health, and familiarize themselves with the warning signs.

In a first-person account accompanying his interview, Knowles wrote that it was during his work in the '80s with medical technology that he started to learn about breast cancer. But it was his family history that helped set off alarm bells for his own health, he explained. (Related: 6 Things You Don't Know About Breast Cancer)

"My mother's sister died of breast cancer, my mother's sister's two and only daughters died of breast cancer, and my sister-in-law died in March of breast cancer with three kids," he wrote, adding that his wife's mother is battling the disease, too.

How common is it for men to develop breast cancer?

Men without a strong family history simply might not be aware that they could be at risk of developing breast cancer. While women in the U.S. have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime, the disease is much rarer in men. It's estimated that about 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2019, with about 500 men dying from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. (Related: How Young Can You Get Breast Cancer?)

Even though a breast cancer diagnosis is roughly 100 times less common among white men than white women, and about 70 times less common among black men than black women, black people of all genders tend to have a worse overall survival rate compared to other races, according to research published in the International Journal of Breast Cancer. The study authors believe this is largely due to a lack of access to optimal medical care in the African-American community, as well as higher incidence rates among black patients of things like large tumor size and high tumor grade.

By going public with his diagnosis, Knowles says he's hoping to spread awareness about the breast cancer risks that black people may face. "I want the black community to know that we're the first to die, and that's because we don't go to the doctor, we don't get the detection and we don't keep up with technologies and what the industry and the community is doing," he wrote for GMA.

What does it mean to have a BRCA gene mutation?

In Knowles' case, a genetic blood test confirmed that he had a mutation in his BRCA2 gene, which likely contributed to his breast cancer diagnosis. But what exactly are these breast cancer genes? (Related: Why I Did Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer)

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that "produce tumor suppressor proteins," according to the National Cancer Institute. In other words, these genes contain proteins that help ensure the repair of any damaged DNA in the body. But when a mutation exists in these genes, DNA damage might not be properly repaired, thus putting cells at risk for developing cancer.

In women, this often leads to an increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer—but again, it's not just women who are at risk. While fewer than 1 percent of all breast cancers occur in men, around 32 percent of men with a BRCA mutation also have a cancer diagnosis (typically prostate cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, melanoma, and/or other skin cancers), according to research published in the medical journal BMC Cancer.

This means that genetic testing and early detection is crucial, which is exactly why Knowles is sharing his story. "I need men to speak out if they've had breast cancer," he wrote for GMA. "I need them to let people know they have the disease, so we can get correct numbers and better research. The occurrence in men is 1 in 1,000 only because we have no research. Men want to keep it hidden because we feel embarrassed—and there's no reason for that."

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