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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Peter Criss, founding member of rock band KISS, knows that many of his male fans are macho, so he is making the rounds to tell them even tough rocker guys like him can suffer from a disease usually associated with women -- breast cancer.
Criss, who was the New York rock band's drummer on and off from its founding in 1972 until 2004 and the voice on some of their most beloved classics, including the 1976 Top Ten hit "Beth" and "Hard Luck Woman", said too many men don't seek treatment and think breast discomfort will go away on its own.
But Criss, who discovered a lump in his left nipple in December 2007, said men need to get over their perception that breast cancer is a woman's disease.
"It can happen to you, and when it does, if you don't deal with it right away, with your 'dude' and your metal and your tattoos, you'll go in the box and we'll see you," Criss told Reuters during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Criss, 63, underwent a lumpectomy in February 2008 and a mastectomy the following month under the care of Dr. Alex Swistel, director of the Weill Cornell Breast Center in New York, and he often felt odd as the only man in the waiting room.
While breast cancer among men is one hundred times less common than among women, it can be deadly. The American Cancer Society estimated there will be 1,910 new cases of male breast cancer in 2009, and about 440 U.S. men will die this year from the disease.
Criss, who is now cancer free, acknowledged that the treatment was unpleasant.
"Whoever invented (mammogram machines) had to do it in the medieval days," he said, adding that it was nearly impossible to fit a small male breast into the machine. He called the pain "excruciating" but a worthwhile price to pay to be healthy.
Criss, who is currently working on an autobiography as well as a new rock album, said his bout with cancer had affected his songwriting.
"My lyrics are not so deep and dismal," he said. One of the tracks on the album, expected next spring, is called "Hard Rock Knockers."
Criss said he is sanguine about the fact that his old KISS bandmates, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, are currently on a North American tour of arenas with two new band members, one in the make-up of Criss' "Catman" character and the other as ex-guitarist Ace Frehley's "Spaceman."
In its 1970s heyday with Criss and Frehley, KISS cranked out hit albums such as "Alive!," and its live performances that were filled with pyrotechnics rocked audiences.
"You want to put two clones up there in our makeup, that's great," he said. "Must I keep putting spandex and makeup on at 70 -- I don't think I really want to do that."
Still, Criss said he hopes his heavy metal credentials will help mitigate the stigma around breast cancer for men.
"You are no more manly a guy than me -- I grew up in Brooklyn," Criss said.
Reporting by Phil Wahba, Editing by Christine Kearney and Bob Tourtellotte