NEWNAN, Ga. - Like a lot of guys, Leslie Mullins has never been a big fan of lab tests and checkups.
“Leslie did not like the doctor at all,” his wife Karen says.
So, when the now 57-year old felt a knot in his breast back in 2011, he didn't get it checked.
He waited, and Googled it.
“And pretty much it, it says, ‘as far as breast cancer, it was like 99.9 percent not going to be,’” Mullins remembers. “And, if you felt it, and it felt smooth, if it felt a certain way, more likely than not it was a cyst.”
Experts say less than 1 percent of all breast cancers occur in men.
So, Leslie Mullins felt like the odds were in his favor.
Still, Karen Mullins was concerned.
“And then my wife just kept asking, ‘Well, why don't you at least just see about it. Maybe it’s nothing,’” he says.
So, after a year, the Madison father of three did get a physical.
At the very end, he told the doctor about the lump.
“And he looked at it and he said, ‘I don't like it,’” Mullins says.
Suddenly, Mullins was having a mammogram, then an ultrasound, and then a breast biopsy. But he wasn’t really worried.
“While I was waiting on the results to come back, it was still, ‘It's not breast cancer. It's going to be something else,’” Mullins says.
But, this wasn't something else. This was breast cancer, stage 2. It had spread to the lymph nodes under his arm.
“I remember sitting on our front porch and just being shocked,” says Karen Mullins. “Like a meteor had hit the earth or something. It was just a very hard time.”
Cancer Treatment Centers of America oncologist Dr. John McKnight says male breast cancer is extremely rare.
Men have a 1-in 1000 lifetime risk. Women a 1-in-8 lifetime risk.
So, breast cancer just isn't on most men's radar.
“If a man had trouble urinating, and he's 70 years old, somewhere in the back of his mind, he's thinking about prostate cancer,” says Dr. McKnight. “But, breast cancer? We've just got to get the awareness to a level where we can diagnose it early. Where people can be aware of it.”
Mullins underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
Still, last year, he learned the cancer spread to his bones, and was now at stage 4, with advanced breast cancer.
Dr. McKnight says men need to know if they have a family history that could raise their risk of breast cancer.
And they need to know the symptoms.
So, what should you watch for?
“Look for a painless lump that's not going away,” Dr. McKnight says. “We look to see if the skin is changing in appearance or contour or feel. We look to see if the nipple is changing its direction.”
Mullins says his cancer isn't in remission, but it's not growing either.
“The outlook is good,” he says. “And I'm almost 5 years into being here.”
Mullins is hoping his story will make other men more aware of their own risk.
“If you notice something, don't ignore,” he says. “It deteriorates fast.”