Battling Male Breast Cancer at 90 Years Old: Ray’s Story

By Drew Munhausen

At 90 years old, Ray Voelker has had his share of routine health challenges. But in In July 2019, Voelker received a diagnosis he didn’t see coming: breast cancer.

“I was blessed that I hadn’t experienced many serious health problems for most of my 90 years,” Voelker said. “I try to stay active with moderate exercise and maintain a proper diet. But as you get older and everything is going smoothly, you almost expect something is going to happen sooner or later. It could be a stroke, heart attack or cancer – but the breast cancer diagnosis was truly surprising.”

Voelker, a retired consulting petroleum geologist, had noticed several small blood spots on his undershirt near his nipple when his primary care physician recommended he get a mammogram and ultrasound, and eventually a biopsy.

“I have complete empathy for all of the wonderful women who get a mammogram annually,” Voelker said. “It wasn’t the most pleasant experience for me and I’ve only had to do it once.”

According to the American Cancer Society, many people do not realize men have breast tissue and that they can develop breast cancer. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancers). Some start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancers). Men have these ducts and glands, too, even though they aren’t normally functional. There are also types of breast cancer that start in other breast cells, but these are less common.

“Male breast cancer is rare, accounting for only 1 percent of all breast cancers,” said Mike Ratliff, MD, general surgeon and breast surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital.

“Incidence increases with age. The vast majority of men have no risk factors, but they do exist, specifically obesity, marijuana use, and liver disease,” Dr. Ratliff said

After his cancer diagnosis, Voelker visited Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Greater Heights to consult with an oncologist. Luckily for Voelker, his carcinoma could be removed surgically without the need for chemotherapy or radiation.

Dr. Ratliff performed Voelker’s surgery just three weeks after the initial diagnosis.

“At 90 years of age, he realized he had already become a statistic,” said Foster Voelker, Ray’s son. “When he got to be 90, he had already resolved himself to the fact that old age might get him before any other type of prolonged illness. But he handled the diagnosis rather well. The process was quick, efficient and very professional. I think the quick treatment is why the prognosis and outcome were so successful.”

Ray Voelker went right back to his normal routine when his incision healed.

“Mr. Voelker is a remarkable gentleman—age 90 and incredibly sharp and spry,” Dr. Ratliff said. “He is always upbeat and remains very active. He did very well from his surgical treatment. I’m thankful he saw the signs and sought immediate help. Men in general should periodically do self-exams and have any mass evaluated by a physician.”

For more information on breast cancer services at Memorial Hermann Cancer Center, visit https://cancer.memorialhermann.org/breast-cancer/.

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