Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in women above the age of 30 in Malta (Prognostic Factors of Female Breast Cancer in Malta report – February 2002).
The good news is that, if detected in its early stages, there is a good chance that it can be successfully treated and a precious life saved.
Breast Screening is Key!
Breast Screening has to start from a woman’s early twenties, with regular self-breast examinations. Through these examinations, women familiarise themselves with their breasts and will be able to detect any unusual lumps that might develop in time. Ideally, they should also undergo a breast examination by a health care provider. They can have this done during their annual medical check-up or smear test appointment. From the age of 40, regular screening by mammography should start. If a history of family involvement exists mammography screening should commence earlier. Women with abnormal results or who are in the higher risk range can also be advised to undergo a PET CT Scan or MRI for additional testing. Screening tests that produce abnormal results will be referred to specialists for treatment guidance.
What causes Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is caused by a genetic irregularity. However, this ‘irregularity’ is inherited only in 5-10% of cases. Around 90% of breast cancer cases occur due to genetic defects that have developed as a result of aging and from the ‘wear and tear’ of the body as a consequence of living. Eating a balanced diet, limiting alcohol intake, not smoking and exercising frequently greatly help towards keeping our bodies healthy. Some women have higher breast cancer risk levels than others and factors that affect this include: age – the older one gets the greater the chances of getting breast cancer; a history of breast cancer in the immediate family; having started menstruating before the age of 12, or going through menopause after the age of 55; being overweight; taking birth control pills; using hormone replacement therapy; drinking alcohol; having dense breasts; not giving birth to children or giving birth for the first time after the age of 35.
Can’t You Just Wait For the Symptoms to Occur?
The answer is a simple ‘No’. This is because, initially, breast cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms. This is why it is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’. A lump may be too small for you to feel in your regular self-examination, or it might not cause any physicals changes or reactions. It can however, be caught in a screening mammogram. This will invariably lead to further testing that will clarify the lump’s nature and the appropriate treatment to be followed.
There are, nonetheless, a number of symptoms that all women have to be aware of and if you experience any of them you should seek immediate medical advice.
• A new lump or mass felt in the breast
• Swelling of all or part of the breast
• Skin irritation or dimpling
• Breast pain
• Nipple pain/nipple turning inward
• Redness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
• Nipple discharge other than breast milk
• A lump in the underarm area
Please keep in mind that not every symptom or sign automatically means breast cancer. The majority of changes experienced in the breast could be pointers towards non-cancerous conditions such as infections, cysts or fibroids. Having a symptom or sign checked out by a medical professional, however, will NEVER translate into a waste of time.
Although much rarer than in women breast cancer does also occur in men.
For more information about Saint James Hospital’s Breast Cancer Prevention Screening Tests or to book your appointment phone on 2329 1000 or send an email on email@example.com. You can also contact our Customer Care Centre through the online support on the top right hand side of this page. When ‘Live Support’ is online our customer care agents will communicate directly with you through the online chat. When offline, kindly leave a message or query and our customer care agents will get back to you at their earliest.