With October being officially recognized as ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ month, HEALTH speaks with consultant breast surgeon Dr. Rita Daaboul to learn more about the disease and how women can make themselves more breast aware.
Very early signs
The earliest signs of possible breast cancer are only picked up on screening tests, explains Dr. Daaboul. “These include microcalcification changes on a mammogram, or a small growth seen on a mammogram, or breast ultrasound which may as yet be too small to detect by touch.”
Self-breast exam and why it matters
According to Dr. Daaboul, it is recommended that every woman should self-examine her own breasts at least once every two months, preferably after her menstrual period, as that is the time when the breasts are the least lumpy and the least tender. She elaborates, “The idea is that over time, the woman would learn what her breasts normally feel like, so that if ever there is any change from the normal, she can recognize this early and seek a consultation with a breast surgeon for further professional assessment, as soon as possible.”
To check the breasts, the woman should look at her breasts in the mirror and then feel her breasts for lumps. “When checking the breasts in the mirror, she should look for any changes in the size or shape of the breasts, any dimpling or puckering or any skin changes, and also anything that may be different about the nipples,” she tells, and she should then feel her breasts at first standing up, and then lying down, especially if there are any concerns. She advises that the woman should use her flattened fingers to feel each part of the breast. This can be done in circles, all around the breast, in clockwise fashion, and lastly to feel the central area of the nipple.
In terms of age, Dr. Daaboul points out that the older a woman gets, the riskier it is to develop breast cancer. “The incidence of breast cancer is 1 in 8 women over their lifetime,” she says, while worldwide, the riskiest age is between 50 and 70 years of age. However, in the UAE, younger women tend to develop more advanced breast cancer, for an as yet unknown reason. As such, she recommends screening should begin earlier than in Western nations. “A woman is recommended to start mammographic screening from 40 years of age, and for a mammogram to be performed every 2 years.”
The latest treatment modalities
The most common treatment for breast cancer, reveals Dr. Daaboul, in simplified terms, is a combination of treatments which include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal treatment, and other biological treatments. “This is why breast cancer is treated by multiple specialists that discuss cases together and treat the patients’ in what is called a multidisciplinary team,” she says.
Lifestyle tips for women
While everyone has a certain degree of susceptibility to breast cancer, there are some straightforward lifestyle factors we can all undertake to lessen and avoid the risks, including:
Eat a healthy diet, rich in vegetables, fruit and natural, high-fiber whole foods. Avoid bad fats, red meat, and highly processed and junk foods.
Maintain healthy weight, especially as you approach old age.
Avoid toxic chemicals both at home and work.
Exercise and activity
Undertaking a regular exercise regime will certainly benefit overall health. Studies show that moderate weekly physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer by around 20 percent.
Adequate vitamin D and sun
Early pregnancy and breastfeeding is a proven preventative.
Maintain a positive outlook which is proven to boost the immune system and works in both prevention and in better outcomes in those who are fighting cancer. H