The year 2020 has taught us that obstacles can always come our way, but it is how we cope and manoeuvre around them that matters. The COVID-19 pandemic locked us away from our family and friends, and we even lost some along the way.
October has always been deemed breast cancer awareness month, but as breast care specialists we have to spread the word and remind you that you need to have your annual screening scheduled.
Breast cancer continues to be one of the leading cancers affecting both men and women globally. The World Health Organization has indicated that one in eight women will develop breast cancer. So why wait to be the one?
The pandemic has caused many people to fall off their routine and I want to remind you about getting back on track with your breast screening and any other screenings neglected during the pandemic. Many people have returned to their outdoor and group activities inclusive of Breast Cancer Awareness Walks and other charitable events during the Pink Month of October.
Many people delayed their testing and are still afraid to get their checks done. This is an appeal to you, it is safe to return to routine screening, which should not have been stopped in the first instance, so go and book your appointment.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and is deemed the second most common cancer overall. Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help detect breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Breast cancer screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are any signs or symptoms of the disease, utilising a combination of various imaging tools and clinical assessments to find the disease before symptoms begin such as pain, lumps and discharges. It is a way of finding cancer when it is too small to feel or see with the naked eye.
Our breasts are made up of various components; fat, connective tissue and thousands of tiny glands called lobules, which produce milk which is delivered to the nipple through tiny tubes called ducts. Most women who get breast cancer (one out of eight) are generally over the age of 50, but younger women, and in rare cases, men, can also get breast cancer. If caught and treated early enough, breast cancer can be prevented from spreading to other parts of the body.
Screening involves testing “healthy people” for signs of developing breast cancer–they are people who are not displaying any issues with their breasts. People who are experiencing symptoms will be categorised as diagnostic assessment and not screening assessment, and they are to seek immediate medical attention once an issue arises with their breasts. Breast cancer screening is recommended to be performed annually.
Types of breast cancer screening tests:
Breast self-awareness/examination: you are responsible for being familiar with your breasts and the way they feel and look. Any changes noticed during this breast self-exam should be reported to your breast physician or breast specialist as they can then guide you through the clinical process and diagnostic assessment.
Clinical breast examination: This is where the doctor or breast care nurse carefully examines the breast and chest area inclusive of the underarm area for any lumps or skin changes.
Mammography: A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast, it is one of the best ways to find breast cancer early, especially since we have available digital mammography at our centre. Digital mammography is the painless form of mammograms, providing increased image detail and increasing the chances of detecting cancer at very early stages, years before physical symptoms develop.
Ultrasonography: An ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures inside the breast. This imaging tool works in conjunction with mammography and helps determine the nature of lesions seen in the breast, whether they are solid or fluid filled.
Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): This utilises a powerful magnetic field to produce pictures of the breast. MRI is used collaboratively with both mammography and breast ultrasound.
Therefore, it is commonly suggested to have a comprehensive breast screening which should entail having a physical breast exam, digital mammogram and breast ultrasound to ensure all aspects of breast tissue are assessed. For the many ladies who still ask why they should do both a digital mammogram and breast ultrasound, it is simply because there are some things which can be seen on mammography but not ultrasound and vice versa. Under the scrutiny of both imaging modalities being performed annually, breast cancer can be detected at an earlier stage which leads to a better prognosis and more treatment options.
Jyoti Deonarine (RR)
Pink Hibiscus Breast Health Specialists
Adam Smith Square, Woodbrook.