2018 Oct 30
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Countless women (and occasionally, men!) suffer from this plight. Many are simply ignorant, misinformed or lack the resources and are eventually diagnosed at irreversible stages with low survival rates. Awareness and early detection may just save your life or that of your loved ones so it’s time that you took a moment to learn more about this disease.
Incidence rates of cancer has been steadily rising in Lanka and as of 2017, 17000 cases in general were detected as released by the National Cancer Control Programme. It was further clarified that breast cancer is the most common form of cancer amongst women, taking up 2500 cases annually. Most are diagnosed in their third and fourth stages, where chances of survival are significantly lower. Thus, doctors are urgently emphasizing the need for spreading the importance of early detection amongst the community.
Globally, breast cancer is the second most common cancer, recording over 2 million cases in 2018.
Things you should know about Breast Cancer:
1. Breast Cancer is caused by abnormal growth. Chances of this cancer increases with certain risk factors such as alcohol consumption, older age, obesity, family history etc. but even with avoidance of these factors there is a possibility of acquiring the disease. Thus, cause of cancer is still described as a complex altercation between genetic makeup and our environment.
2. Doctors have also revealed that factors such as early puberty, late menopause, childless women and those who have their first child after the age of 30 have higher links to this disease.
3. The most common symptoms of breast cancer may present itself as a lump, skin irritation, nipple pain, redness, nipple discharge (excluding breast milk) or thickening of the nipple/breast skin. If you experience any sort of unwelcome change to your breasts, a checkup is an absolute must.
4. Only a small percentage of breast lumps are actually cancerous. Most tend to be cysts (fluid filled lumps). However, given the global increase in incidence rates and high risks of fatality, it is better to be safe than sorry and get the swelling tested.
5. Breast Cancer lumps may not always appear directly on the breasts. Breast tissue can reach up to your collar bone and armpit. Cancers are notorious for spreading, so you might notice the appearance of a swelling under your arm or around your collar bone before the tumor in your breast becomes prominent.
6. You do not need a family history to be diagnosed. In fact, only 5 to 10 % of cases show a family history. Yet, when you are taking into account your family history, do not neglect your father’s side as genetic factors from both parents play a role when it comes to acquiring disease- even breast cancer.
7. Breast Cancer is not limited to older women but can affect younger women in aggressive strains too.
8. While relatively harder to diagnose in pregnant women due to the changes their breasts undergo in preparation for a baby, there is still a risk of breast cancer.
9. Men too can be diagnosed with Breast Cancer and account for less than one percent of cases.
10. Be wary of age-old myths passing from generation to generation such as underwire bras, caffeine or deodorants being causes of cancer. These links are not scientifically backed and are therefore inconclusive.
11. More than 90% of women survive the disease for at least 5 years when diagnosed at the earliest stage. In comparison, only 15% survive when diagnosed at advanced stages.
12. Misconceptions have led the community to believe that Mammograms expose people to unsafe levels of radiation. However, radiation used for this technique is very small (less than a standard chest X-ray) and well within medical guidelines. Given the high survival rate at early diagnosis and the unpredictability in being diagnosed with cancer, mammograms are the safest and most efficient way to go.
Breaking down Mammograms
Delving deeper into the topic of mammograms; a technique is avidly promoted by doctors.
A mammogram is essentially a low dose X-ray- it is both a screening and diagnostic tool specifically designed for early detection of breast cancer. It works by using two plates that flatten the breasts to spread the tissue thereby ensuring a better picture and enabling lower radiation to be used. X-ray pictures are taken of each breast and then assessed. Mammograms show abnormal areas in the breasts such as calcifications (accumulation of Calcium in body tissue) and masses and thus, enable doctors to decide if further testing is necessary.
During the process of having a mammogram, you will be required to stand in front of a specialized x-ray machine and with the help of a technologist, place your breast on a clear plastic plate.
From above, another plate will press your breast firmly to flatten and hold it still in position while the x-ray is taken. The process will be repeated to get a side view of the breast, and then again for the second breast.
What you feel will depend on a variety of factors such as the size of your breast and how much they need to be pressed and the skill level of the personnel. Your breasts might be more sensitive during or before your periods thus it is advised not to take the test during this time. It is also preferable to wear two piece clothes for convenience.
After the scan, a radiologist will then read your x-rays for any signs of breast cancer or any other issues.
They play a vital role as they are capable of finding growing lumps before it can even be felt by the potential patient or doctor. Finding cancer early means it is much easier to treat and there is a reduced chance of it having spread. Then of course, there is a skyrocketed likelihood of survival and improved odds of breast conservation. It does not prevent cancer – but it can save lives.
It is recommended that women of at least 40 years of age go for an annual Mammogram screening.
Stay safe and be aware. Spread what you’ve learned this Breast Cancer Awareness Month and possibly help save a life!