Breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the cells of the breast in women and men. It is the second most common type of cancer after lung cancer and the fifth most common cause of cancer death. In 2004, breast cancer caused 519,000 deaths worldwide (7% of cancer deaths; almost 1% of all deaths) the first symptom is a lump that feels different from the surrounding breast tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, the first medical sign, or objective indication of breast cancer as detected by a physician, is discovered by mammogram. Lumps found in lymph nodes located in the armpits or collarbone can also indicate breast cancer. Indications of breast cancer other than a lump may include changes in breast size or shape, skin dimpling, nipple inversion, or spontaneous single-nipple discharge. Pain is an unreliable tool in determining the presence or absence of breast cancer. Dr Mohamed Shaalan, Chairman of BCFE (Breast Cancer Foundation inEgypt) tells us about some breast cancer related issues starting from examination and ending with surgery.
Breast self examination
90% of the treatment occurs during early examination. Women must do self examination before their 20’s or starting from their late teenage years. The aim is that a female must be familiar with her breasts learning it’s topography and nature. The timing of examination must be after the monthly period. From ages 20-40, a woman must be examined every 3 years, after menopause, a woman must do examinations monthly. Breast cancer rarely happens before the twenties, mammograms don’t take place at a young age. When a woman is 40, she must start getting mammograms on regular basis. During early examination we remove the tumor without removing the breast; if the tumor is too big we remove the breasts and often plastic surgery follows for women who choose so.
Breast cancer risks
40 years ago, women used to live only until the age of 50. Today women live longer so the chance of getting cancer is bigger. There are some other risk factors like:
¨ Being a female: as some males could get affected with breast cancer but that’s very rare.
¨ Growing older: The more a woman grows older the more she faces the risk.
¨ Family history: if there is a family history of breast cancer, When a mother is affected with breast cancer at her 70’s there is no great risk for her daughter to get breast cancer but if her mother was young with breast cancer; here is the problem. Also multiple family members sharing breast cancer is of course a risk especially bilateral breast cancer (breast cancer affecting both breasts).
¨ Another risk is having your first baby after 35; also never having children is a 3 times risk than a woman who has children.
¨ Lack of breast feeding
¨ Early periods: if a woman started her periods when she was 10 and ended at 55 is at a higher risk than a woman who started at 15 and ended at 40.
¨ Obesity and eating junk food also play a role in the risk of breast cancer as well as lack of exercise. In California a study showed that exercising 4 hours a week reduce the risk.
¨ Hormone Replacements Therapy: when a woman after menopause take hormone replacements seeking to look younger. A research in the U.S found that 70 million hormone replacements prescriptions take place annually in the states and people started to slow down after the dangerous consequences of those replacements.
Women come to BCFE and we do a social research for the economic status of women who seek treatment. A national campaign was launched to do tests among many various women, and found lots of cases. The BCFE went to the Egyptian Telecoms Company and we gave lectures as there are hundreds of female employees there, also lectures were given at schools as well as doing tests, “From day one we found a case”, Dr. Shalaan tells us as he points to the important benefits of early examinations. The BCFE awareness is spread among factories and campaigns like Run for Cure and lectures at el Gezirah club as well as printed brochures. “The media plays a vital role for raising awareness as today women come with smaller tumors than 5 years ago”, he says.
Breast cancer myths and misconceptions
Radiation: some people say that a woman who is treated with radiation could have a high risk on her family or nursing her baby which is totally not true as well as affecting her husband with cancer. Cancer isn’t a disease that can be transmitted from one person to the other.
Breast size: there is a misconception that bigger breasts could get breast cancer more than smaller ones which is a false conception.
Breast implants: plastic surgeries of the breasts like breast implants don’t encourage breast cancer like many people think.