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Breast cancer: early detection saves lives

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the world and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it accounts for 30 percent of all cancer diagnoses. The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman ages and is most common in women around menopause. As a woman ages, the risk continues to increase. Breast cancer in women in their teens or twenties is not common; however, there have been recorded breast cancer cases of women in their twenties. Therefore, breast awareness and self-examinations need to start when a woman reaches 20 years of age.

Regularly examine your breasts

It is advisable to start with monthly self-exams of your breasts at the age of 20. The best time to do a breast examination is when your breasts are not tender or swollen, which is usually on the tenth day after your period starts. Women who have reached menopause or who have had a hysterectomy can do their breast exam on any day as long as they do it consistently on that day each month. Following are instructions for properly examining your breasts.

The LOOK and FEEL technique

In the shower
Check each breast with the pads of your fingers moving them in a circular motion from the outside to the center of the entire breast, including under your armpit and around your collarbone. Feel for lumps, hard knots, or thickening or swelling. Gently squeeze your nipple and check for discharge and lumps.

In front of the mirror
Stand in front of a mirror and with your arms to the side and visibly check your breasts for any changes such as skin discoloration. Next, lift both arms above your head and check each breast for any changes in shape or size. Check also for skin dimpling and changes in the nipple.

Lying Down
With a pillow under you and your arm above your head, check each breast using the pads of your fingers in a circular motion from the outside to the center of the entire breast, including under your armpit and around your collarbone. Feel for lumps, knots, or thickening or swelling. Also gently squeeze your nipple and check for discharge and lumps.

Changes to look for
When checking your breasts look for changes, such as the following:

  • Breast changes in size or shape, enlargement, or swelling.
  • Skin discoloration, redness, or a rash-like skin texture around the breast or around the nipple, e.g., dimpling, puckering or skin feels rough or looks like the skin of an orange.
  • Nipple discharge. If you see discharge, note the discharge color.
  • Lump(s) such as a hard knot or thickening of the skin. Check to see if the lump is movable or attached in one place and if it is painful.
  • Nipple retracted or inverted (pulled in).
  • Swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone.
  • Constant pain and/or itching on any part of your breast or in your armpit.

What to do if you find breast changes that are not normal for you?

Do not panic! Not all breast changes are caused by cancer. There are many reasons for your breast to change. Some are harmless. Regardless, you should have them examined by your physician as soon as possible. You know better than anyone what is not normal for you. So go and see your doctor if something does not seem right.

Know your breast cancer risk factors

Aside from being breast-aware, you should also be aware of your risk of developing breast cancer. If you have any of these risks, let your doctor know. Remember, early detection can save your life.

  • Gender – Females are at higher risk than males; however, men do get breast cancer
  • Age – 81 percent of breast cancer are found in people over the age of 50
  • Any previous history of breast or any cancer, particularly if your received radiation to the chest
  • Family history of breast cancer or any cancer – 5-10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Having been diagnosed with benign breast diseases such as fibroadenoma, breast cysts, or fibrocystic changes
  • Early puberty or menstruation
  • Late menopause
  • Not currently breastfeeding or have not breastfed for a long time
  • Not having children or had children after the age of 30
  • Currently using hormone replacement therapy
  • Obesity (women who have reached menopause are at higher risk)
  • Chronic smoking of any kind, including cigarettes, shisha, or cigars

Breast screening

Mammogram
From the age of 40, women should begin having special X-rays called mammograms, annually. A mammogram can detect changes inside the breast.

Self-Breast Examination/Clinical Breast Examination
Once a month do a self-breast exam. As part of your annual mammogram, your doctor should examine your breasts as the doctor may notice something you have missed.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Women who are at high risk (have several risk factors) based on their family, medical or personal history, should have a yearly MRI as well as a mammogram. Your doctor will determine if you are at high risk, and if you are, will advise you about this test.

What can I do?

  • Self-breast exams starting at age 20
  • Annual screening mammogram starting at age 40
  • Know your risks (family, medical and personal history)
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and avoid unhealthy foods
  • Increase physical activities such as doing regular exercise
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Regularly consult with your doctor and have regular clinical breast exams

JHAH is here for you

The Oncology & Blood Disorders Clinic at JHAH is dedicated to providing the most holistic treatment for your individual needs. Our Oncology team is here to meet your physical, emotional, and mental health needs. Our team consists of experienced Oncologists, Radiation Oncologists, Surgeons, Oncology Psycho-Social Councilors, Social workers, Oncology Nurses & Oncology Nutritional support professionals.

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