Your pleasant bathtime is ruined – you go ice cold as you feel the lump in your breast. You know that not all breast lumps are cancer, but what if this one is?
Don’t panic. The essential thing here is to get an accurate diagnosis. Tissue examined under a microscope gives the only incontrovertible diagnosis of what the lump is: here’s how to get that reliable diagnosis.
Check the lump again for size and position, and even mark its position on the skin with a pen. Consult your GP as soon as possible for a full examination. Ask him to arrange an urgent mammogram + ultrasound, and an appointment with a surgeon for the day after your mammogram. Based on the findings, the surgeon will advise you about the next step, which should be a biopsy (done under general anaesthetic) to obtain a tissue sample. The pathologist’s report on this is usually available within 48 hours, and will determine what happens next.
Remember that mammograms miss 10% of cancers, so be guided by your surgeon if your mammogram is negative. Any new lump in the body is abnormal, and must be diagnosed.
Very often, the lump is found to be non-cancerous, and can be simply removed. If cancer tissue is found, treatment will vary with the type of cancer, its size and the extent (if any) of spread. With a definite diagnosis, you may prefer to consult a special breast cancer clinic at this stage.
Breast cancer affects a woman in so many ways, both physical and emotional, requiring many changes in her life, and referral to a dedicated breast cancer team, or centre, may offer her many advantages. Because these professionals deal ONLY with breast cancer, their knowledge base is vast and up to date, and they are experienced in dealing with the problems women face. The team usually includes a surgeon, plastic surgeon and oncologist, who together will advise on the best overall treatment plan for you.
For early cancer, several operations are possible, ranging from a lumpectomy to a mastectomy.
Reconstruction may be done immediately: if you want this, consult a plastic surgeon before the time. In some cases, an experienced plastic surgeon may be able to do both the mastectomy and reconstruction at the same operation. Some glands may also need to be removed for examination, and additional therapy such as chemotherapy or radiation may be advised. For more advanced cases, other approaches may be needed, and the oncologist will guide you through this.
With early detection, safe surgery and advances in chemo- and radio-therapy, a good quality of life can be had. The earlier it is found, the better off you will be.
These tips will help you get the best outcome:
• Do not ignore a breast lump
• Examine yourself regularly in the bath or shower: on soaped skin, use the flat of your hand to examine each breast systematically. If you are unsure, ask your GP to teach you the technique.
• Have a full annual checkup and mammogram, especially if you are over 40 or have known risk factors.
• Know your risk factors and try to eliminate them
REMEMBER THAT BREAST CANCER ALSO OCCURS IN MEN!