Breast Cancer 101

Signs you have it and how to beat it for­ever

Cosmopolitan Middle East - - CONTENTS - BY KAVITA SRINIVASAN

Every­thing you need to know.

No mat­ter how many times you’ve read that any­one can get breast cancer, it’s hard to be­lieve you will. But the crazy thing is, breast cancer can hap­pen to any­one and age has noth­ing to do with it. There’s a whole lot of info out there and a ton of ques­tions to be an­swered. We’ve bro­ken it down to the ba­sics you’ve got to know and every­thing you can do to stay cancer free.

Dr Rosalie Sant, Ob­streti­cian and Gy­nae­col­o­gist at Pri­mav­era Cen­tre in Dubai Health­care City ( pri­mav­er­a­clinic. com, 04 375 4669), an­swers breast cancer FAQs

What causes breast cancer?

RS: “We don’t re­ally know. There are a few fam­i­lies who are more at risk for breast cancer but re­ally, most pa­tients who have breast cancer have no fam­ily his­tory. Smok­ing has been shown to in­crease your risk, along with obe­sity and cer­tain hor­mones if taken af­ter menopause. A healthy life­style is known to re­duce one’s risk as does stress man­age­ment.”

What are some of the ear­li­est signs of breast cancer?

RS: “Most of the time there are no symp­toms and that’s why rou­tine screen­ing is so im­por­tant, es­pe­cially since it picks up lumps be­fore they be­come ‘pal­pa­ble’ (when you can feel them). Cancers do not usu­ally give any pain.

1. Feel­ing a small, hard lump may be a first in­di­ca­tion but most lumps are not can­cer­ous; they’re sim­ple cysts or fi­broade­no­mas (non-can­cer­ous lumps that can be found at any age). Lumps may also be found in the arm pit.

2. Skin changes such as dim­pling and changes in tex­ture are also warn­ing signs, al­beit ones that usu­ally ap­pear in late stages of the cancer.

3. Dis­charge from the nip­ples is al­ways alarm­ing but is usu­ally okay if it’s clear. How­ever, if it’s blood stained or green it needs to be in­ves­ti­gated.”

When should I start screen­ing for breast cancer?

RS: “If you feel a lump you should go to a doc­tor to have it checked. It’s im­por­tant you ex­am­ine your breasts ev­ery month af­ter your pe­riod to feel for lumps or any changes. If there’s any­thing sus­pi­cious or if your doc­tor ad­vises you, then you can get a fur­ther ul­tra­sound. Mam­mog­ra­phy screen­ing should only start when you’re 40 and above. How of­ten you get a mam­mo­gram varies by coun­try. For ex­am­ple, the Amer­i­can Col­lege guide­lines ad­vise ul­tra­sound and a mam­mo­gram (sono­mam­mo­gram) screen­ings ev­ery year af­ter the age of 40. Other coun­tries are more con­ser­va­tive and ad­vise screen­ing af­ter 50 years of age. Some coun­tries also say that screen­ing ev­ery three years, or ev­ery 18 months, is enough. How­ever, as a woman grows older, long gaps can ex­pose her to the risk of in­ter­val cancers.

In my opin­ion, af­ter the age of 50 one should def­i­nitely have an­nual sono­mam­mo­grams. If your fam­ily has a his­tory of breast cancer, proper screen­ing should start 10 years be­fore the age your rel­a­tive was when she was di­ag­nosed. How­ever, breast MRIs should only be done if re­quested by a spe­cial­ist breast ra­di­ol­o­gist as they can be tricky to in­ter­pret.”

Are there dif­fer­ent kinds of breast cancer?

RS: “There are many types of breast cancer:

1. They can be found in the milk ducts or in the glan­du­lar tis­sue where the milk is pro­duced.

2. They can be lo­calised (in-situ) or in­va­sive.

3. They can be oe­stro­gen or pro­ges­terone re­cep­tor pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, which will help to de­ter­mine the type of treat­ment that would be most ef­fec­tive.”

If I have breast cancer, how would I be­gin to treat it and what op­tions do I have?

RS: “This varies case by case and de­pends on the age of the pa­tient, the type of cancer, the stage and grade of the cancer, and which re­cep­tors it has (as this de­ter­mines which drugs will work on it), etc. Some­times it needs surgery first fol­lowed by chemo­ther­apy or ra­dio­ther­apy, or both. Some­times the surgery fol­lows the chemo. The pro­to­col is con­stantly evolv­ing as more sci­en­tific ev­i­dence is dis­cov­ered.”

What is the typ­i­cal re­cov­ery pe­riod af­ter breast cancer treat­ments?

RS: “This de­pends on the type of cancer and the treat­ments re­quired. It can vary from a few weeks to a few months.”

Is it true that breast feed­ing re­duces the chances of breast cancer?

RS: “Yes, there’s ev­i­dence that breast feed­ing de­creases the chances of de­vel­op­ing breast cancer later in life but it cer­tainly doesn’t elim­i­nate the risk. It’s one of the rea­sons for en­cour­ag­ing breast feed­ing, es­pe­cially in women with a fam­ily his­tory of breast cancer.”

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