Breast Cancer 101
Signs you have it and how to beat it forever
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.”