NAYA | Breast Cancer Awareness month: What you should know about it, and why start early

Although technically all women are at risk of breast cancer, there are low-risk and high-risk patients. While low-risk patients should undergo a basic screening, high risk patients are required to do special testing; such as screening and an MRI.
by Fatima Dia

11 October 2019 | 04:10

Source: by Annahar

  • by Fatima Dia
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 11 October 2019 | 04:10

If your family has a history of breast cancers, start your screening.

BEIRUT: It’s Pink October once again, and it’s time for women to go over the basics of taking care of our-selves. Breast Cancer is still the most prevalent cancer in women world-wide, where 1 in 9 women is at risk of having breast cancer throughout her lifespan. But with the rise in awareness, its mortality rate has decreased due to earlier detection through screening— the more aware women are, the faster we can act, the higher our chances of survival. Here are some important things to know about breast cancer to help keep you and those around you more informed.

“The number one thing to know is that [most] breast cancers are hormone-dependent tumors,” said Dr. Elie J Chalhoub, MD, OB-GYN and breast specialist in Lebanon. “Everything that a woman does that in-creases her life-span exposure to hormones, increases risk of breast cancer.”

The average age of diagnosis of breast cancer cases is 61 years-old; 25 percent of which are diagnosed be-fore the age of 50, 10 percent of cases diagnosed before the age of 40, and 30 percent after the age of 70.

According to an article published in WebMD, about 80 percent of breast cancers are ER-positive; this means that the cancer cells multiply in response to the hormone estrogen. About 65 percent of those are also PR-positive; in response to the hormone progesterone. Also, about 20 percent of cases are a cause of an excessive production of a protein known as HER2. There’s a fourth type that doesn’t have any of the hormones mentioned above, and is generally associated with the gene BRCA1; that’s about 10 to 20 per-cent of cases, and it’s called triple negative.

What are things that affect your hormone levels and increase the risk of breast cancer?

Well, for one, being a woman. Yes, this means men can also have breast cancer, although it is extremely rare— less than one percent of breast cancer cases occur in men. In addition, having no kids, lack of breast feeding, and obesity, all increase the risk of breast cancer.

“Having no kids is a major risk-factor for breast cancer,” said Chalhoub. “It doesn’t mean if you don’t have babies, or if you don’t breastfeed, you will get cancer. The solution is screening.”

Although technically all women are at risk of breast cancer, there are low-risk and high-risk patients. While low-risk patients should undergo a basic screening, high risk patients are required to do special testing; such as screening and an MRI at an earlier age than a low-risk patient. A patient is considered high-risk mostly when direct family is affected by breast, ovarian, colon, or prostate cancers—these are the types of cancer that are more likely to develop from one to another due to a mutation with the BRCI1 and BRCI2 genes.

“Let’s say a mother developed breast cancer at the age of 50 [without prior history], we wouldn’t consider it a high risk family,” said Chalhoub. “But if the mother and her sister both developed cancer, it becomes a high risk family.”

Family history is a common requirement in most medical assessments, and when it comes to breast cancer specifically, it’s absolutely crucial. If your family has a history of any of the aforementioned cancers, start your screening earlier.

Self-checkup is definitely a way women can keep track of any lumps or changes to their breasts. However, as Chalhoub explained, because breast cancer doesn’t really have explicit symptoms, self-checkups can be tricky. In younger women, breasts are generally firmer and filled with little bumps of fat that are completely normal— it would be hard to know if there’s something different or not. As women grow older, breasts become less firm, and lumps are easier to spot. The best course of action would be to get the first screening, and in between that and the second one, monitor the breast for any lumps or changes. In case there are any new lumps, don’t wait for the next screening; consult your doctor as you might need an earlier check-up.

“The earlier we detect breast cancer, the easier the treatment, and the better the prognosis,” said Chalhoub.

According to a study published to the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Issue in 2019, earlier stages of breast cancer made up two-thirds of the cases in the Lebanese population, with survival rates reaching 80-90 percent. This means that most of the cases were detected early due to early screening; and as a result, the cancerous tumors were less severe, and survival rates increased substantially. That’s how much of a difference early screening makes.

“If we do an earlier screening and we detect a small lump or tumor, the surgery would be easier and the treatment would be easier,” emphasized Chalhoub. “We can do partial mastectomy instead of a total mas-tectomy, we can keep the breast and only remove the affected part if the tumor is small.”

Remember, not all lumps are tumors, and not all tumors are cancerous. It’s important to always check with your doctor, and never self-diagnose; that will only increase your stress. The possibility of hearing bad news is scary; but as the saying goes, knowledge is power. And the power you bring with early screening isn’t only for you; it’s for your daughter, your sister, and every other woman.

For more information about breast cancer, causes, treatments, and available support groups, consult your gynecologist, or physician. You can also visit the health line website (https://www.healthline.com/health/breast-cancer).

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