Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How much do you know about breast cancer?

Around 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives, and the World Health Organization estimates 685,000 people around the world died of the condition in 2020. Those are sobering statistics. With upwards of 2.3 million global cases each year, breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer and can be one of the most life-altering.

As science has progressed, survival rates have been on the rise and both early detection screening and advanced treatments have started to improve the situation. Around 65% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at the localized phase before the cancer has had a chance to spread. Of those diagnosed at this early stage, 99% of patients will survive beyond 5 years, meaning breast cancer has one of the most successful treatment rates if it’s caught soon enough.

Who is affected by breast cancer?

Breast cancer can occur at any point from puberty onwards, and it’s worth remembering that men can also be affected, although they make up only 1% of cases. Breast cancer becomes more of a risk the older you get, but there can be a hereditary factor that might mean some people are predisposed to the condition.

Certain lifestyle choices can also affect the likelihood of a person developing breast cancer, including excessive alcohol consumption or smoking. Other risk factors include obesity, a history of radiation exposure, the age at which menstruation began, the age at which you had your first pregnancy, and post-menopausal hormone treatments. However much you might adapt your lifestyle, there will always be a risk of breast cancer, and it’s important to keep checking your breasts and attend any invitations to screening.

Signs and symptoms

Despite breast cancer being one of the most common forms of cancer in women, most of us are guilty of forgetting to check our breasts or not being entirely aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease. You should seek the advice of a doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • A lump in the breast, including the areas under your armpits
  • A thickening of the breast tissue
  • Changes in size, shape, or appearance of your breast
  • Redness, dimpling, or other alterations to the skin
  • Changes in the appearance of your nipple or the skin around the nipple
  • Unusual nipple discharge

You may find you get all or none of these symptoms, as they will vary from woman to woman. Because you may be asymptomatic, screening can play a significant role in picking up those otherwise undetected cases at an early stage.

What is breast cancer screening?

Breast cancer screening can involve a number of tests, designed to pick up early traces of the cancer so that it can be treated before it has had a chance to spread. Doctors will often take note of a family history of the disease and certain lifetime exposures, before deciding who should be screened as a priority and which types of screening should be used.

After an initial examination by a doctor, you may be sent for a mammogram. This is an X-ray of the breast tissue, and the best way of detecting cancerous cells early on. Regular ultrasounds and mammograms save lives. If you’re invited for a mammogram or an ultrasound examination of your breasts, it’s highly recommended that you take up the offer even if you have no outward signs of the disease.

Another screening test involves breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), using magnets and radio waves to capture images of the breast. These tend to be used for women who are at above-average risk of developing breast cancer, and are often used in conjunction with a mammogram to confirm the presence or absence of cancerous cells.

Are there any risks?

As with any form of testing, there are risks to breast cancer screening. The most common of these is a false-positive result. This is when a doctor sees something which may be cancer and has to commission more tests for a conclusive diagnosis, potentially causing great anxiety to the patient.

On the whole, however, the benefits far outweigh the risks when it comes to breast cancer screening. If a cancerous growth is picked up early on, then survival rates are vastly improved and the amount of treatment needed may be reduced.

What are the treatment options if you are diagnosed?

Treatment for breast cancer depends very much on the stage and grade at which it is detected, but the most common form of treatment is surgery. Surgery, again, depends on the type of cancer you have. In some cases, breast-conserving surgery may be an option. This is where only the tumour is removed before the cancerous cells have spread. If there is evidence that they are spreading, then you will probably be recommended a mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed.

You may also need to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which often come into play post-surgery. Chemotherapy involves taking drugs which kill off cancer cells, while radiotherapy uses controlled doses of radiation to have the same effect. Together, these treatments will hopefully prevent the disease from returning.

While these treatments can sound daunting and overwhelming, early detection will minimize the number of invasive procedures that may potentially save lives. Breast reconstruction surgery is also an option for women who have undergone a mastectomy or double mastectomy, and advances in this field mean higher satisfaction rates among women who have had reconstructive surgery.

Are you ready for Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a time when we should all be focusing our minds on this disease. In an ideal world, you should check your breasts every month, be aware of even the slightest changes to them and seek medical help if you do find a lump or have any other symptoms. You should also attend any invitations for screening, because by the time outward signs appear, the disease may already be established.

Throughout October, Dubai London Hospital is offering breast cancer screenings for everyone, making this the perfect time to get yourself checked out. Our team of experts will be on hand to carry out clinical examination and tests, offer advice and discuss any concerns you may have. Screening really does save lives, and it is a vitally important service which we are very proud to offer.

Please do visit us throughout October for breast cancer screening, to put your mind at rest and help us fight this disease.