Dr Langa Mbhele – From doctor to patient

Dr Langa Mbhele tells us how his breast cancer was caught early due to his wife pushing him to go see a doctor and how he felt to be the patient.

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Dr Langa Mbhele (48) lives in Westville, KwaZulu-Natal with his wife and three children. He is a practicing anaesthetist.

Blood stains on T-shirts

In 2021, Langa started noticing blood stains on his T-shirts (by his left nipple) but he didn’t take much notice of it as he wasn’t experiencing any pain. After three months the blood stains became more regular, so his wife pushed him to go get it checked out.

“I went to a surgeon friend of mine; he examined me and said there was a bloody discharge coming out of the nipple and sent some of it to be tested. The specimen results came back saying suspicious cells, so he referred me for an ultrasound and biopsy,” Langa explains.


The biopsy confirmed that Langa had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and it was localised to the ducts. He was referred to a breast specialist; it was decided to have a wide local lumpectomy which removed tissue as well as his nipple. Several lymph nodes were also removed but thankfully all of them tested negative for cancer.

When asked if Langa considered reconstruction, he responds with a laugh, “No, it doesn’t bother me and I’m okay with not having a nipple. I’m not vain.”

Langa then went for six weeks of radiation. “I would go first thing in the morning at 7am, from Monday to Friday, before I started work. I managed to work but I would start to feel tired around 2pm, but I just pushed on,” he says.

Hormone therapy

Once Langa completed radiation, he was put on tamoxifen (a selective oestrogen receptor modulator) for five years. He says out of all the treatment; the side effects of tamoxifen are what he battles with the most. “The hot flushes are terrible, I feel like I’m menopausal,” he says jokingly. “I went through winter without wearing many clothes because I was feeling hot all the time. And unfortunately, in South Africa, we only have a 20mg formulation and the tablets aren’t weighted so you can’t break them in half to make a lower dose. We have been trying to get a 10mg formulation overseas but it’sa struggle.”

Thankfully Langa is persevering and still takes tamoxifen, saying he is used to the side effects now. 

Finding out his father had breast cancer  

The way Langa found out that his father had breast cancer too is quite unique, “I never knew my father had breast cancer and only found out when the pathologist phoned me with the results and he said that he had tested my father’s specimen years ago which was also positive for breast cancer. I couldn’t ask my father about it as he had passed away six years before from a heart attack, but my guess is that he had breast cancer 10 years ago, as we knew he was having a surgery, but he never spoke much about it,” Langa explains. 

Once Langa found out about his father, he went for BRCA testing and strangely enough it was negative. When asked if he would like his children to get tested, he says, “I wouldn’t mind but obviously they will have to decide if they want to.”

When asked why he thinks his father didn’t tell him, Langa says, “That’s a good question. Maybe he didn’t want me to worry?”

Age and fitness were a positive 

Langa believes his age, and him being physically fit for the past 20 years helped in his recovery. “I didn’t have any complications after surgery. I went in on the Wednesday, was discharged on the Friday and back at work on the Monday. I enjoy exercise, I go to the gym and run in marathons and cycle in races. I always have good finishing and it makes me feel good,” Langa says.  

From doctor to patient

The 48-year-old doctor admits it was strange to be the patient. “But I think I enjoyed being on the other side and being looked after, instead of looking after people,” he says. He adds that his treating doctors were colleagues he knew, and he was comfortable with this. “I knew the anaesthetist who put me under and I was quite calm and wasn’t checking if everything was done correctly,” he says laughing. 

Family support

Naturally Langa’s wife was shaken by the diagnosis and was scared but once surgery was completed and she saw how well he was doing, she was put at ease. Langa says that they were open with their children, explaining he had cancer, but thankfully it was caught early so it could be cured.

“I was fortunate to be surrounded by a loving family and their support was great. My colleagues were also so supportive which made it just so much easier to cope.”

Langa has the opinion that many people are still not aware that men can get breast cancer. “I told my friends that I have breast cancer and they were like ‘Dude, how can you get breast cancer, I thought only women get that?’ and so I explained that men can get it even though it’s rare.”

Langa admits that if his wife didn’t push him to go to get it checked out, he would have more than likely delayed it as long as he could. He also attributes this to one of the reasons why men are diagnosed late. “As men, we don’t really subject ourselves to get examined and tested, we always postpone seeing a doctor and push on and may even suffer in silence.” Thankfully, Langa’s wife was the voice of reason and he listened to her.  

Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. 

MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. [email protected]