Shifting Masculinities Amongst Men Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: A Multi-Method Phenomenological Inquiry




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


Under-acknowledged both clinically and socially as a threat to men’s health, breast cancer in men continues to be a critical health issue, with complex ramifications for those affected. Research exploring men’s breast cancer experiences and their lives beyond the diagnosis remain limited. Hence, this inquiry asks ‘How do men describe breast cancer and their experiences of the illness?’ the aim, to advance understandings about men’s meaning-making of breast cancer and masculinity, and to ‘give voice’ to this under-researched population. Embedded theoretically and methodologically within a critical qualitative health framework, the research has two parts. Part one is a qualitative synthesis of nine existing international studies exploring men’s breast cancer experiences, following Noblit and Hare’s (1988) method for synthesising interpretive qualitative data. The outcomes of this synthesis were used to inform part two: a multi-method phenomenological exploration of men’s breast cancer accounts using verbal and visual data. Thirty-One British men recruited through NHS records, Breast Cancer Care, and social media platforms, used self-authored photographs to illustrate their breast cancer experiences, which they later discussed as part of extended semi-structured interviews. All data were analysed together using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith & Osborn, 2003). Integrating and triangulating the findings from the two study phases, the on-going marginalisation of men across the breast cancer trajectory, and how this influences men’s experiences of, and adjustment to the illness, are revealed. Findings from the qualitative synthesis suggest current approaches to breast cancer care and advocacy serve to isolate men, potentially alienating and emasculating them; while patient management practices and informational resources unequivocally marginalise men. Findings from the new inquiry corroborate those from earlier studies, further illuminating the difficulties men encounter and some of their coping strategies. Specifically, three superordinate masculinities were identified: ‘threatened and exposed’, ‘protected and asserted’, and ‘reconsidered and reconfigured’. A schematic representation is presented to show how these interconnected masculinities are encountered, performed and utilised by men from pre-diagnosis through treatment and beyond as they manage, make sense of, and live through breast cancer. How and why men encounter/perform these different masculinities at different points in time across the breast cancer trajectory, and how this aids men’s adjustment to illness, and life beyond the diagnosis, is considered. The findings are expected to have both academic and real-world impact through informing future research, and recommendations for advocacy and intervention for improved future breast cancer care and practices.



Breast Cancer, masculinities, critical qualitative health psychology, lived experiences, IPA, visual methods



Research Institute

Institute for Psychological Science