Sat | Feb 29, 2020

Breast cancer facts

Published:Monday | October 30, 2017 | 12:00 AMRocheda Bartley

The thought of being diagnosed with breast cancer is every woman's worst nightmare - it overshadows our blue skies with dark gloomy clouds. Breast cancer awareness month is ending, and I am sure you must have some unanswered questions about this deadly disease. Today, with help from Dr Lindberg Simpson, a consultant general and minimal-invasive surgeon, Flair will give you all the information you desire.


Who are most vulnerable to breast cancer?


Usually women over the age of 50, but certainly in our population, we are seeing increasing numbers of younger women (having breast cancer). So, women in their 40s are also susceptible to breast cancer. This doesn't mean, though, that if you are in your 30s and 20s, it is impossible.

Breast cancer is also possible in men, but Dr Simpson notes that male breast cancer is about one per cent of the total number of breast cancer cases.


What are the symptoms of breast cancer?


The most common symptoms ... and especially in the early stage is a painless lump. We often see patients delay coming for treatment because they don't have pain. Pain is a very late symptom. Other symptoms include a change in the appearance of the breast, or bloody discharge from the nipple. Sometimes the nipple can shrink inwards (inverted) or sometimes the breast can become swollen and look like an orange peel (peau d'orange).

The painful lumps that usually scare women is a non-cancerous benign condition. They form occasionally and especially during menstruation. With the cyclical changes of the menstrual cycle the breast develop lumps and become painful.


Can injuries to the breast cause cancer?


Injuries to the breast do not cause cancer. You can get a lump or blood clot, but physical trauma does not cause cancer.


What types of treatment are available?


Treatment includes surgery and sometimes you have to add radio therapy to better control the disease. In terms of systematic treatment, there is chemotherapy and hormonal treatment. There is a also a more recent treatment called targeted therapy. This is similar to chemotherapy, but it is more specific for the cancer cells and more tolerable than the chemo.

Surgery is most successful at the early stage of cancer. Systematic treatment is usually administered through needles and tablets. These destroy cancer cells all over the body. Also, targeted therapy is more expensive than chemo but is expected to gradually decrease.


Can your diet increase your risk of developing breast cancer?


Certainly. It is always good to have a healthy diet and exercise to try to reduce your saturated fat. Breast cancer responds to oestrogen and in post-menopausal women, most of their oestrogen comes from the fat which they store in their bodies. Also, people who are obese tend to have a higher risk.

Even so, there are no prescribed diets to prevent breast cancer.


Is there a link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer?


Certainly. In the past - about 20 to 25 years ago - when we had the higher dose (oestrogen) contraceptives, there was a stronger link. Now they have decreased the oestrogen in it, but because you have to add additional oestrogen in the body, it still puts you at an increased (oestrogen) risk.

Additionally, if a tumour already exists in the breast, oral contraceptive can cause it to grow faster.


What is a mammogram?


This is a special type of X-ray for the breast. Breast cancer has particular features that can show up on an X-ray. Mammograms allow doctors to identify cancer before there is even an actual lump. Breast cancer cells can appear on the X-ray like sprinkled salt grains.

Unfortunately, this is a painful examination. Women younger than 44, have an option to do a mammogram screen every year. While women between 45 and 54 years old, are encouraged to do an annual examination. Also, women 55 and over are recommended to do an examination every two years.


What is preventive mastectomy?


Preventive mastectomy is removing the breast before it develops cancer. There are some women who have some genetic mutation which significantly predisposes them to developing breast cancer. If your mother or sister had or have breast cancer and developed it at a young age, then you could be carrying one of these mutations. The recommendation would be to test to see if you have the genetic mutation.