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What is breast cancer / oncology?

Breast cancer is the most prevalent oncology disease affecting women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is important that women have regular screenings, as early detection of breast cancer is crucial.

If you, or a family member, are dealing with breast cancer, our dedicated nurse coordinators at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (JHAH) are here to provide reassurance and care, and take you through the treatment process.

Our team of skilled oncologists provide a comprehensive review for every breast cancer case, and create personalized treatment plans. These may include input from medical oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, nurses and support services.

Breast cancer treatments, services and procedures

If a breast mass has been felt by you, or detected by a mammogram or ultrasound, you may be invited for a breast biopsy. A breast biopsy is the procedure of obtaining tissue samples from the breast to closely check a breast abnormality/lesion that has been detected. The radiologist will decide whether the biopsy will be carried out using the stereotactic (mammogram-guided) or the ultrasound-guided method.

A local anesthetic will be injected into the area of your breast that has the mass, and the procedure will usually take between 30 and 60 minutes. It will be performed in a private suite by a female technologist and radiologist.

There is no need to fast before the procedure. If you take aspirin or any anti-coagulant, you should stop taking this three to five days before the biopsy appointment. Do not wear powder, deodorant or perfumes in your underarm/breast area, as these can interfere with accurate visualization of your breast tissue. You will be asked to undress from the waist up, and change into a hospital gown (in a private dressing room). Let the technologist know if you are nursing or if you think you could be pregnant. Be sure to bring a friend or family member with you, but no young children.

You can expect to get your initial results between three and five working days after the test. You can follow up with your physician for the full report, which will be available within two weeks. If the biopsy shows an area of concern, you will be invited to attend the Breast Cancer Clinic.

Mammography uses low doses of radiation to produce high-quality X-ray images of your breast. It helps detect abnormal growth or changes in the breast, and also provides a baseline reference for later comparison. It is an important way to help detect breast cancer, because it can find cancers too small to be felt by hand.

Schedule your appointment for a breast screening one week after your menstrual cycle, as it will reduce some of the discomfort felt by the compression used during the exam. Take a shower and shave your armpits before the procedure, and do not use powder, deodorant or perfumes in your underarm/breast area – these can show up on your mammogram, interfere with accurate visualization of your breast tissue, and may mimic disease.

During the procedure, a pair of smooth plastic plates will compress your breast to provide a clear image and decrease radiation exposure. While the compression period is short, some women find the exam slightly uncomfortable. Other women report feeling no discomfort at all.

The total time for a mammogram appointment is around 30 minutes to one hour. You may be called back for additional views or an ultrasound of the breast, to clarify certain areas the radiologist saw on the images.

Articles: We debunk five mammogram myths

What to expect from our oncology services

Once you arrive at the Breast Cancer Clinic, you will be in the care of a dedicated breast cancer team, working collaboratively to provide you with complete care. Your treatment plan may involve surgery, chemotherapy, biotherapy, radiotherapy or hormone therapy, and your surgeon or oncologist will discuss options with you to create the treatment that best fits your situation.

Once your treatment plan is in place, we will arrange any tests you may need and set up a schedule for your care. You may need hormone therapy, chemotherapy, surgery or radiation, as indicated by your diagnosis. Your dedicated physician will explain the appropriate treatment for you, and our breast cancer team will be on hand to provide additional advice and support.

You may have chemotherapy prior to surgery, in order to shrink the mass – this treatment can take three to four months. Our oncology team will discuss this option with you when creating your personal treatment plan, and will also discuss any possible side effects.

Should you require surgery, your breast surgeon will discuss your options with you and outline any possible complications. After surgery, you should expect to stay in hospital for at least three days. You can bring your iPad or books to keep you occupied, and there is a television available. You may also have up to two visitors at a time – though no children. 

During treatment, you can expect to have routine follow-up appointments with your oncology physician and our caring nursing staff and breast care coordinator, who will provide support whenever you need it. You will also meet with our oncology nurse educator, who will discuss your health changes and answer questions about your care. It is important that you eat a healthy and well-balanced diet while undergoing treatment. Your taste buds may change during this time, and food may not taste the same, but try to eat both savoury and sweet food in moderation. Our oncology nutritionist can give you more information about your diet. You should also carry out light exercises to help build up your strength.

Post treatment, you will continue to meet with your oncology team. Usually, you will be discharged back to your Primary Care physician with routine screening orders to monitor your health and any changes in your prognosis.

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