A different thing altogether: an idiographic case study of breast cancer in men using interpretative phenomenological analysis


  • Sarah Butterworth Coventry University
  • Elizabeth Sparkes Coventry University




qualitative, breast cancer, men, interpretative phenomenological analysis


Background: Around 300 men are diagnosed annually with breast cancer in the UK. In comparison to the wealth of information on breast cancer for women there is paucity of information in the literature regarding the psychological consequences of being a man with breast cancer. Male breast cancer constitutes a unique lived experience for men due to its strong identity as a gender-specific disease.

Methods: A case study was undertaken with a 55 year old man in the early recovery phase of breast cancer. An in-depth semi-structured interview was conducted using an interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA, Smith 1996) approach to gain an insight into the participant’s lived experience of breast cancer.

Results: Four superordinate themes emerged from the data: the Impact of the Cancer; Factors that influenced coping; Changing Identity: retaining masculinity despite limitations; and Feeling fortunate and a need for awareness.

Conclusion: Acquiring further information on breast cancer in men allows services to be better positioned to help the recovery process by: offering suitable information, being aware of male psychological distress, increasing patient autonomy, normalising the experience to reduce exclusion, and promoting support outlets.

Author Biographies

Sarah Butterworth, Coventry University

Sarah works as a Research Fellow in Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust on a CLAHRC funded project focusing on reducing the delay of untreated psychosis and on wider youth mental health. In this position she has contributed to the Youthspace public mental health platform: (a) design and implementation of regional attitude surveys to examine the public’s mental health knowledge and health beliefs; (b) executing mental health education seminars in secondary schools as part of an RCT; (c) health promotion campaign design, execution and evaluation to reduce help-seeking delays and duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) in young people; (d) patient and public involvement in service development; (e) evaluating current services for young people including delays, costs and health outcomes to inform service re-design, and; (f) introducing new media and virtual health spaces to healthcare including project coordination of online media; designing and building a mental health focused website (www.youthspace.me) in collaboration with service users and stakeholders, film creation and developing associated social media and e-learning tools for professionals.


Her background is in first-episode psychosis and she worked in Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) early intervention services for three years prior to this post as a researcher, evaluating services and service user outcomes as part of a multi-site project. She also has an MSc in Health Psychology and has conducted research into maternal health and the early years, experiences of illness and health promotion campaign and service evaluation. Her professional interests include: health promotion, illness prevention, mental health and wellbeing, early identification and treatment of mental disorders in young people, maternal health and breastfeeding, smoking cessation and applied health behaviour change interventions.

Elizabeth Sparkes, Coventry University

Elizabeth is a HCPC registered health psychologist currently lecturing at coventry University. Elizabeth has a PhD in the area of pain psychology and has also conducted research in many areas of health promotion and behaviour change.






Original Research Articles