New Research Summary: How do men with breast cancer experience masculinity?
Updated: Jun 30
We sat down with Dr. Kerry Quincey (De Montfort University) to discuss her new contribution to our flagship journal, The Psychology of Men and Masculinities. In the article, entitled Men With Breast Cancer and their Encounters of Masculinity: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis Using Photography, Quincey and colleagues explore the challenges, coping strategies, and navigation of masculinity experienced by men with breast cancer. This important work enhances awareness and understanding of the experiences of men diagnosed with breast cancer, and we encourage readers to check it out!
Quincey, K., Williamson, I., & Wildbur, D. (2021). Men with breast cancer and their encounters of masculinity: An interpretive phenomenological analysis using photography. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 22(4), 690-703.
What were the research questions you were answering with this study?
Primarily, the research asked, 'How do men describe breast cancer and their experiences of the illness?' though it also sought to address the following subsidiary questions:
What are the main challenges of living as a man with breast cancer?
How do men view themselves as a community of individuals with breast cancer?
What do men want from breast cancer care and support?
What are some of the key findings of this study?
We reveal the multiple difficulties men encounter and the coping strategies they employ relative to a breast cancer diagnosis and demonstrate the complex and dynamic ways in which men navigate, make sense of, and perform masculinity through their breast cancer journey, and the centrality of this to their experiences and account-giving.
The findings show how a breast cancer diagnosis in men initiates the feeling that their masculinity is being threatened–exposed, prompting them to respond by protecting–asserting their male selves to uphold hegemonic positions. However, as they progress through the illness episode and begin to reconstruct their lives postdiagnosis, paradoxically, the men later appear to relax their performance of masculinizing practices, as they discover benefits associated with experiencing breast cancer, including becoming breast cancer activists, and “better” men, showing them to have reconsidered-reconfigured their masculinities and what this means to/for them.
The findings highlight the numerous and diverse challenges with which men diagnosed with breast cancer contend, and the frustrations that coincide with trying to manage these. The men interviewed unequivocally viewed themselves as belonging to a marginalized minority community and expressed a clear desire for greater equity for all breast cancer patients and improved care and support for men; many actively working to engender this as advocates.
What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?
Importantly, this research is contributing to new avenues of advocacy, awareness raising and peer support. These include a recently launched monthly ‘Virtual Meet-Up’ (VMU) forum, co-developed with and led by men with breast cancer, several of whom were participants in this research study (see: https://www.dmu.ac.uk/about-dmu/news/2020/october/new-forum-will-bring-men-with-breast-cancer-together.aspx). This resource affords men the opportunity to meet and interact regularly with other men affected by breast cancer with input from academics, clinicians, and third sector agency personnel being provided where appropriate.
Additionally, some of the study findings were also used to inform a newly developed male-dedicated breast cancer information leaflet, produced by a leading breast cancer charity (see here: https://www.againstbreastcancer.org.uk/charity-news/male-breast-cancer-information/).
Furthermore, the findings of this study serve as the catalyst for a new research inquiry that I am conducting together with NHS clinicians which seeks to identify – from both patient and clinician perspectives – deficiencies in the care of men with breast cancer to improve practices for/with male patients.
Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?
Inadequate awareness of and understandings about breast cancer and breast health in men persist at all levels. Our findings highlight several avenues for further research, one of which I’ve mentioned above, i.e., addressing deficiencies in the care of and practices for/with male breast cancer patients, but these also include exploring the breast cancer experiences of men from different ethnocultural backgrounds and non-heterosexual men.
How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?
For almost a decade now I have been researching the topic of breast cancer in men from a critical health psychology standpoint. I first became interested in the topic as a master’s student when I identified this as a health inequality in need of critical research attention, and subsequently pursued this line of inquiry for my PhD research and have continued to do so ever since, outputting related research and incorporating the topic into my teaching as a health psychology lecturer. I am passionate about working to improve understandings about breast cancer in men and to engender positive changes for this patient group.
Kerry Quincey, Ph.D. CPsychol, FHEA
Senior Lecturer in Psychology
De Montfort University