Breast cancer - what you need to know
Two of the most common cancers in Jamaicans over the age of 40 years old are breast cancer and prostate cancer. Regular screening for these cancers improves your chances of detecting them at an early stage and getting treated successfully.
Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells and can be developed from any tissue within an organ. Breast cancer is, in fact, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Jamaican women over the age of 25. Early detection is important in controlling the effects of this disease.
What are the warning signs?
A painless lump or thickening in or near the breast or under the arm.
A change in the size, shape or outline of the breast.
A blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple.
A change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or the nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly, inflamed).
An area which is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.
A marble-like hardened area under the skin.
Being female - women are much more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
Personal history of breast cancer.
Beginning menopause after age 55.
Post-menopausal hormone therapy.
Having your first child at an older age, such as 35 years and over.
Why breast self-examination is necessary
Breast self-examination should be performed at the same time each month, three to five days after your menstrual period ends. If you have stopped menstruating, perform the exam on the same day of each month. Monthly self-examination helps you to become familiar with the normal changes in your breasts, so any unusual changes can be detected early.
If you think you have found a lump, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible to have it checked. If you require surgery, it is not the end of the world. Women who have had breast surgery can and do lead normal productive lives.
After the age of 40, women should have regular mammograms (breast x-rays), the frequency of which should be discussed with your doctor. Mammograms are quick, easy and safe.
Although very rare, men can have breast cancer, and the symptoms are similar to those experienced by women.
How to do breast self-examination
All women should check their breasts every month. Check to identify changes in colour and thickness and the presence of lumps or moles. By regular examination of your breasts, you will know how your breasts feel normally. If you detect a change, tell your doctor right away.
Check your breasts about one week after your menstruation.
You can examine your breasts in one of three patterns. Press firmly with the pads of your fingers (not the tips). Examine the entire area, including lymph nodes, from your collarbone to just below your breast and from armpits to breastbone.
Examine your breasts in the shower.
Also, lie down and examine your breasts.
Examine your breasts in the mirror with your arms down, up and on your hips.