Simple steps can increase survival chances to 95 percent
“I discovered the lump in my breast by mere chance. I was in the shower and felt something under my hand. Three days after I discovered it, I was on the operating table [for a mastectomy], says Faiza Abdel Khalick, breast cancer survivor and co-founder of HOPE-Egypt, a non-profit organization that provides emotional support to women with breast cancer and that raises awareness of breast health issues.
Fifteen years later, Abdel Khalick is healthy and she credits that to the fact that she detected the cancer early and got it treated quickly.
Now that October, breast cancer awareness month, is over, we need to remember throughout the year that early detection of breast cancer saves lives. When breast cancer is confined to the breast, and has not spread to other parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is over 95 percent, according to the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, based in the United States.
Early detection involves a simple three-step plan.
First, all women over the age of 20 should do a monthly breast self-exam in which they look at and feel their breasts for any changes. Breasts tend to be more lumpy and tender right before and during a woman’s menstrual period, so it’s good for a woman to know what is normal for her breasts at different times of the month, and the best time for a self-exam is right after the period is over.
Any of the following would be a reason to check with a doctor right away: a lump or thickening in the breast; a change in the breast’s size and shape; dimpling of the skin; swelling, warmth or redness in the breast or armpit; a nipple that has a rash, discharge or is pulled in; or pain in one spot that does not go away.
“My advice to women would be: Don’t wait. The minute you discover a change in your breast, take immediate action and see a doctor. [After you’ve seen a doctor], you must get a second opinion, says Abdel Khalick.
As the second step in early detection, the Komen Foundation recommends that women visit their doctor for a clinical breast exam at least once every three years beginning at age 20 and once a year beginning at age 40. During the clinical breast exam, the doctor looks at and feels the breast for any changes.
Thirdly, an annual mammogram, an x-ray of the breast, is important for women over the age of 40 because it often detects tumors that are too small to be felt by hand, even those as small as a grain of rice. Remember though, that a small number of breast cancers do not show up on a mammogram but can be felt by hand, so it’s important to have a clinical breast exam every year as well.
The best time for a mammogram is after a woman’s period, when her breasts are least likely to be tender, since her breasts will be pressed between two plates of the x-ray machine and this may be uncomfortable. It’s also best to wear a two-piece outfit to make it easier to undress for the mammogram.
“The best thing would be to discover breast cancer early with routine [doctor’s] check-ups, breast self-exams, and mammograms. This can save lives, says Abdel Khalick.
HOPE-Egypt is a nonprofit organization that provides information and emotional support to women with breast cancer as well as their families. The organization runs support groups for women with breast cancer, and their vision is to ensure that women and their families in Egypt don t face breast cancer alone by offering them hope and ways to cope. Hope is a grassroots effort whose mission is to offer breast health programs and service and to reduce the mortality rates and trauma resulting from late diagnosis of breast cancer in Egypt by facilitating women’s access to accurate and comprehensive information about breast health. For more information go to www.hopegypt.org.eg