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COLUMBIA, S.C. (USA TODAY) -- While men are diagnosed with less than 1% of all breast cancers, a former state senator here says men shouldn't take the risks for granted.

Men have breast tissue, are susceptible to five different types of breast cancer and can die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

"I had to be that damn 1 percent. I don't know why me, but I was the one," said former South Carolina Sen. Kay Patterson, a Democrat who lives here and said he always had been in good shape. "I have never been sick and I was just in good health."

But almost 11 years ago, his left breast didn't feel right, he said. He found a lump and started going to doctors to find out what was wrong. In early 2003, he was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I was surprised as hell that a man would have cancer of the breast," he said.

An estimated 2,240 men in the USA will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. The average age at diagnosis is 65. More than 400 men will die from the disease. But men and women have similar survival rates, and if the cancer is caught early, the five-year survival rate is 98%.

In comparison, more than 300,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and almost 40,000 women will die, the charity said.

Surprisingly, even men can have the BRCA gene mutation that made actress Angelina Jolie susceptible to an aggressive form of breast cancer.

"The issue is it's not a sex-linked gene, so it can be in men and women," said Dr. Michael Naughton, an oncologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "Men can pass it on to their daughters women can pass it on to their sons."

Liver disease, such as cirrhosis, can disrupt hormones and cause higher levels of estrogen in men, and low doses of estrogen-related drugs given to treat prostate cancer can increase the risk of male breast cancer, according to American Society of Clinical Oncology. Exposure to high doses of radiation, being obese, and drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day may raise the risks of breast cancer.

About 1 in 5 breast cancers in men can be traced to a history of the disease in their family's women.

Male breast cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy, the society said. Surgery to remove the tumor is almost always recommended.

Patterson had surgery in April 2003 to remove his left breast and he followed in May with three months of chemotherapy.

"It was hell going through that chemo now. That chemo is a dog and it zaps all of your energy," he said.

But the man who became a state representative in 1975 and a state senator in 1985 told The Associated Press in 2003 that he had not missed a day in the South Carolina Senate because of his treatments.

"I had the energy, I didn't have much, but I had enough to go," he said recently. "I found out that if you're doing something you really love and something you want to do, that's better than staying home, looking out the window and feeling sorry for yourself."

Patterson, 82, retired from the state Senate in 2007 and now helps other men battling breast cancer.

"If anything I can do to help people and explain to them what's going on to their bodies and what's happening to them and how it's best for them to deal with it, I'm amenable to that," Patterson said.

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