Anne, a 23-year-old student came to the hospital after realising that the lump on her left breast had not disappeared after quite some time — she had noticed it seven months earlier and had chosen to ignore it. It was not painful, so she hadn’t seen the need to act on it.
After realising that the lump hadn’t disappeared, and there was a clear discharge from the breast’s nipple, she decided to consult a doctor. She looked really worried about it.
There had to be something else catalysing her fear. On further questioning, I got to understand why — her aunt had died from breast cancer the previous year and her cousin was recently found to have bowel cancer. In her mind, the breast lump was cancer.
Her fears were justified seeing as to the fact that breast cancer can run in families. But there are lumps that are actually not cancerous, as we saw in last week’s article.
She had already seen the surgeon and her breast surgery was scheduled for the next day. The surgeon’s instructions were short and to the point.
“Kindly, admit and prepare my patient for surgery”. She looked at that note again and again, as she was washed over with nervousness. She bit her lower lip and shook her right foot involuntarily.
On examining her, I found a lump on her left breast. As part of routine breast examination, the armpits have to be examined too, but I did not find any swellings in her armpit.
As she dressed, I tried to comfort her and give her hope in what seemed like a hopeless situation in her eyes. After I finished preparing her for surgery, I left to attend to other patients but Anne’s case was at the back of mind.
I made a mental note to check up on her after the surgery as well as follow up with the laboratory. After surgery, any growth that is removed needs to be taken to the laboratory for analysis to determine whether it is cancerous or not.
This analysis can take several days. As happens in all busy outpatient departments, I soon became too busy and forgot about Anne until the following week when I decided to have a look at her laboratory results.
The final diagnosis was “Papillary Adenoma”, which is a non-cancerous growth of the inner lining of the ducts in the breast that make milk. This meant that Anne did not have cancer as she feared.
Trying to convince a lady who has a breast lump that it is most likely not to be cancer is an uphill task, especially with recent increased awareness about breast cancer.
But it behooves all of us, friends, family and medical practitioners to do our best to reassure those who find lumps in their breasts and spare them the psychological anguish they may put themselves through out of fear.
Prevention and treatment developments
1A study carried recently has categorised breast cancer into 10 sub-types. As much as this study uses a radical approach for this classification, which is meant to assist in the comprehension of different types of cancer, it still won’t change the way breast cancer is treated. Its treatment is a combination of medicines, radiotherapy and surgery.
2According to a new study, IVF (In vitro fertilisation) may increase a young woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. According to WebMD, a medical website, all the women who had received IVF between 1983 to 2002 were followed by researchers from the school of Population Health at the University of Western Australia.
They found that women who started IVF at age 24 were 150 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer compared to women who received other forms of fertility treatment at the same age or older women who received IVF treatment.
The researchers attribute this increase in breast cancer risk to the rise in oestrogen hormone levels during the IVF procedure. This hormone has been long associated with the development of breast cancer.
3Ingesting high levels of cadmium, a metal commonly found in fertilisers, may also be linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. A study carried out in Sweden shows that a high level of cadmium intake in the diet of postmenopausal women increased their breast cancer risk by 21 per cent.
And it was even less consoling to realise that the major source of cadmium in the diets of these women was healthy foods — whole grains and vegetables — accounting for about 40 per cent.
It is believed that cadmium may increase the oestrogen levels in the body hence increasing the risk of breast cancer. But this does not mean that you avoid these types of food, said the researchers, as whole grains and vegetables generally protect against cancer.
4The drug Perjeta has officially been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat women with advanced cases of a specific type of breast cancer.
It was developed by Roche Holding AG’s Genentech unit for the treatment of women whose breast cancer has spread and test positive for a protein called HER2.
5A British study of about 1,000 women says that breast cancer recurs in almost one in four people.