In 2010, almost 1.5 million people were diagnosed with breast cancer according to figures released by the World Health Organisation. Unfortunately, there are currently no publicly available figures for the UAE in particular (they’re working on it), but it’s worth noting that even though one in every eight women is at risk of developing breast cancer at some point in her life, it’s not only the fairer sex that should be concerned. Incidence in men is rare, but it happens, so it’s important to dispel the myth.
‘Of 100 newly diagnosed breast cancer cases, there will be 99 cases affecting women, and one affecting a man,’ explains Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, head of the medical team at Pink Caravan, a mobile breast cancer screening unit that operates around the country. ‘Although it’s fairly rare in men, it’s still an important concern because it tends to be very aggressive in men, and the survival rate is often low. The key with breast cancer across the board is early detection.’ The earlier you catch it, the better your chances of survival.
There are normally no symptoms of early breast cancer, though as it grows it can form a lump that can be felt in the breast tissue – it can also cause changes in the skin surrounding it, which can become coarse and wrinkled.
‘The idea of cancer detection being painful or embarrassing needs to change,’ Dr Sawsan explains firmly. ‘When it is detected and treated in its early stages, the rate of recovery from breast cancer is 98 percent. There are three steps that all women should be aware of. First, it’s vital to perform regular monthly self-examinations from the age of 20 [see our boxout above for a guide], which is easily learned and performed at home. Then have a clinical breast test performed by a doctor every two years, and regular mammogram tests from the age of 40.’
Pink Caravan itself is a mobile facility that champions breast cancer awareness, screening and early detection, launched in 2011 as part of Friends of Cancer Patients’ ten-year anniversary celebrations. The facility offers education, workshops on self-examination, clinical breast examinations, mammograms and ultrasounds, and though October may be a time when the world focus is on breast cancer, Pink Caravan’s work continues year-round.
As a rule, breast cancer can affect any woman, but though no single, specific cause has been identified, Dr Sawsan notes that some factors have been picked out as increasing an individual’s risk of developing the disease. ‘Among women [these include] ageing, family medical history, presence of stimulating genes, late first birth (after the age of 35), early menstruation (before the age of 12), late menopause, eating fatty food and being more than 40 percent overweight, smoking more than ten cigarettes a day, using hormone replacements or frequent use of pregnancy control pills.’
Despite this list, Dr Sawsan is adamant that even if you find none of the risk factors apply to you, it doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to breast cancer. This is why Pink Caravan stresses the importance of early detection and screening on a regular basis, for all women.
At the end of the day, a simple self-examination costs you nothing. Not checking could cost you your life.
To find out more about breast cancer awareness in the UAE and info on Pink Caravan’s campaigns, see www.pinkcaravan.ae.
How to perform a self-examination
1 Stand in front of the mirror with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips. Check that your breasts are their usual shape, size and colour, and that there is no visible distortion or swelling.
2 Consult a doctor if you notice any dimpling or bulging in the skin, a nipple that has changed position, redness, soreness, rash or swelling.
3 Raise your arms above your head and look carefully for the same changes.
4 Check for signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples.
5 Lie down and feel each breast using the pads of your fingers, keeping them together and moving across in small, circular motions. Be sure to cover the entire area.
6 Repeat step five while standing. Consult a doctor if you notice anything unusual.