Mon | Nov 29, 2021

Garth Rattray | What you can do about breast cancer

Published:Monday | October 18, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Women know their own breasts better than anyone else.
Women know their own breasts better than anyone else.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I am avoiding quotations, statistics, figures and percentages because they might detract from the message.

Please keep these basic things in mind.

AWARENESS: Knowledge is power. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Although it is more likely to occur in women over 40 years old, I have seen it in women in their early twenties and in someone who was 89 years old. It is not preventable; however, it is usually survivable if detected and treated early…the earlier, the better.

RISK REDUCTION: Only two cancers are preventable – colon cancer and cervical cancer. However, you can reduce your risk of getting breast cancer to some degree. Diet, exercise, and weight management play a role in risk reduction. A diet high in fat and/or refined carbohydrates is not good for our bodies. Some researchers single out and suggest that dairy products should be severely restricted.

SELF-EXAMINATION: Women know their own breasts better than anyone else. Although most problems with the breasts are discovered by the patients themselves, many tell me that they don’t know what to feel for during breast self-examination. I tell them that they should examine their breasts regularly anyway, because they are the ones who will feel something different if anything appears.

– The usual technique is to stand in front of a mirror and look at the breasts – look for retractions, obvious lumps, distorted shapes, and the skin around the nipple (where a special kind of breast cancer can occur).

– Lean forward to see if they fall forward evenly.

– Check for any nipple discharge, then, examine in the shower or when flat on the back in bed.

– Raise the relevant arm above the head, flatten the fingers on the opposite hand, which will be used to examine the breast. Keep the fingers straight and together. Begin by pressing and rotating in small circles from just beside the nipple and work around the centre of the breast in bigger circles until you get to the outside of the breasts.

– Do not forget to check under the armpits for lumps.

– Do this monthly.

REGULAR ROUTINE IMAGING: There will always be things that nobody can see or feel, because they are way too small to be detected on physical examination. This is where regular, routine imaging comes in. The breast mammogram, and perhaps, sometimes also the breast ultrasound, are indispensable, routine checks that should be performed every single year, beginning at around 40 years old (unless there is a close family history of early breast cancer).

Although the pressure from the equipment used to flatten the breast tissue during the mammogram may be uncomfortable, it is worth it because it could save your life.

The Jamaica Cancer Society is a great place to have mammograms done.

EARLY MEDICAL CONSULTATION: Because of fear, some women either suspect that something is wrong, or receive an unfavourable exam result and sit on it too long or indefinitely … doing that may be lethal.

TRUST THE SCIENCE: Science is not perfect; in fact, it is always evolving and changing as new discoveries are made. The treatment for breast cancer depends on the kind of cancer and on the stage that it was discovered. Treatment ranges from only removing the lump, to removing the entire breast and glands from the armpit. There is often a need for some sort of chemotherapy, and perhaps even radiotherapy.

Some women prefer to try natural/alternative treatments for their breast cancer. Unfortunately, they have not been proven as effective as conventional medical treatment. At the very least, try the medical treatment first. I know several women who died because they abandoned the science and tried alternative medicine alone.

SPREAD THE WORD: It is important to spread the word. Tell your friends and acquaintances. Help reduce deaths from breast cancer.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and