Most everyone has been affected by breast cancer in some way or the other. Yet knowing the facts can help save a life. HEALTH investigates the realities of breast cancer…
Why should we check?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in fact, has been instrumental in educating women about the importance of early breast cancer detection. According to Dr. Iliana Gancheva Dmitrieva, specialist obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Dubai, cancer of the breast in women is a major health burden worldwide and 1 in 10 of all new cancers diagnosed worldwide each year is breast cancer. “Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and it kills more than one thousand women each month,” she tells. (Sources: Cancer Research UK & Office of National Statistics (ONS) 2007).
What is a mammogram?
Routine mammograms and breast exams can detect cancer early and provide women with better treatment options and results. Mammographic screening for breast cancer, explains Dr. Dmitrieva, uses x-rays to examine the breast for any uncharacteristic masses or lumps. “In some countries a screening mammogram is suggested at age 40, with a repeat screening every year or two,” she says while some national programs start mammography at 45. “For the average woman, the U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammography every two years in women between the ages of 50 and 74,” she advises but in women with high risk, mammography screening is recommended at an earlier age and additional testing may include genetic screening that tests for the BRCA genes and / or magnetic resonance imaging.
Know the Symptoms
When breast cancer starts out, Dr. Dmitrieva says that it is too small to feel and does not cause signs and symptoms. “As it grows, it can cause changes in how the breast looks or feels,” she says. Symptoms may include:
• Lump in the breast or underarm
• Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
• Irritation or dimpling of breast skin, redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
• Pain in the nipple area
• Nipple discharge
• Change in the size or the shape of the breast, changes in colour or texture, and/or an inverted nipple.
There are two parts to BSE:
1. Appearance: look for visual signs of dimpling, swelling, or redness on or near the breasts.
2. How they feel:
• Lie down on your back with a pillow under your right shoulder.
• Use the pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to check your right breast.
• Press using light, medium and firm pressure in a circle without lifting your fingers off the skin in and up and down pattern.
• Feel for changes in your breast, above and below your collarbone and in your armpit.
• Repeat on your left breast using your right hand.
• Palpation of the nipple – women that are not breastfeeding gently squeezes each nipple to check for any discharge.
Real Life Breast Cancer Survivors:
Angela Shearman, age 34, first found out she had breast cancer on February 13th, 2014.
“I never really did self-exams as I thought I was too young and had no family history. Still I just happened to feel a large hard lump one day and then went to my GP who referred me for an ultrasound and mammogram. Once I was diagnosed, I stayed calm while taking in all the information from the doctor. Once I was out the doctor’s office, I broke down crying. I had my husband with me and we just sat in the reception while I cried. The first dreaded phone call was to my mother in Australia. However through all of this I never once thought I was going to die, I knew I would fight this no matter what.” “I first had surgery and then chemotherapy. My in-laws came to help me after surgery and then my mother came out to help me during my chemotherapy. My mom was my rock during this time; she was a tremendous help with my three year old daughter and myself. I had to have four sessions, one session every three weeks. The first session was the hardest. I did not know what to expect and I did not like the feeling of being weak and tired. I started to lose my hair two weeks to the day from the first treatment. I shaved my head soon after. I thought I would be really emotional shaving my hair but my mother shaved her head with me and it was all okay. I have just finished my last treatment on July 9th. It’s a relief to know that it’s all over and done with…”
Ruxana Rais first discovered that she had cancer in September 2011.
“In one of my singing-in-the-shower sessions, I accidentally discovered a lump and then I went for a checkup, followed by an ultrasound and mammogram. When I found out I had breast cancer I was stunned. After the initial disbelief and tears, I snapped into action mode and began to plan my next steps accordingly. My husband, son, daughter, daughter-in-law and oblivious 20-month old granddaughter were my five pillars. My friends and family asked me to be brave and strong although those were the last two things that I felt I could be. My niece once offered to accompany me for my chemo and another time my sister-in-law accompanied me. There were two options – moving forward with their support or lying motionless, so I kept on trucking even though at that time I really didn’t know how.”
“After my bilateral mastectomy, my chemotherapy began. I was given infusions every three weeks for a period of eight months and then I had to take about 25 radiations. Throughout the chemotherapy, I experienced nausea and body ache, swelling in my hands as well as loss of my hair. Yet I told myself that this was proof that the medicine was working and the result of this would definitely be positive because of the advanced medical treatment available today.”
“By the grace of Allah I am doing much better now, with my hair all grown back and I am now taking only target therapy for any silly, stubborn cells left behind. Today all that pain and suffering feels like it had a purpose – a happy ending. The side effects are quite physically draining but the hardest part is what drained me emotionally – the fear that you might die anytime during your journey. But this fear is cushioned by the love and compassion of your family.”
Local Support Groups:
Brest Friends is a social support group for survivors who meet monthly to discuss treatments and any activities related to breast cancer headed by breast surgeon, Dr. Houriya Kazim. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP), is a charitable, volunteer-based foundation established in 1999. As a charitable organization FOCP has been able to provide financial and emotional support to over 700 patients across the UAE. FOCP is committed to all residents of the UAE without discrimination. The charity aims is to provide practical, financial, moral, educational and medical support for cancer patients and their loved ones. Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
• Angels of Mercy, provides psychological counseling and support to all cancer patients, survivors and their families, and educational programs to the community about cancer. The group meets once a month and is located at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain. Contact: Sjaloudi1@hotmail.com
• The Pure Heart Program is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of supporting cancer patients in every way, as well as encouraging companies to direct their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives toward this cause. Contact: email@example.com