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Keep breast cancer at bay

Breast cancer is a woman’s biggest enemy but it can be tamed. Here is how you can beat it:

1. Avoid unnecessary, painful biopsies

The world of medicine has welcomed yet another new technology-the hand-held optical mammography device that will save you that tiring, painful biopsy.

In a bid to complement Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)- this non-invasive tool doesn’t use X-rays or press on the breast, as does traditional mammography. It uses infrared light to create 3D images of breast tissue.

This is good news for you- you will avoid unnecessary biopsies, and you will also be able to catch breast cancer in good time, making the process a whole lot easier.

Further, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Prof Robert McLaughlin is investigating a new method of detecting cancer in lymph nodes without invasive surgery.

2. Thou shall not lose your entire breast

For a long time, doctors applied radical mastectomy which involved removing the entire breast, underlying chest muscles and some lymph nodes.

Today, however, you will not have to lose your entire breast. According to leading oncologist Dr Catherine Nyongesa, doctors have now adopted a new method- breast conserving surgery.

“A patient will not have to lose their entire breast because the only thing that is removed the cancerous lump and some normal tissue around it,” says Dr Nyongesa.

3. Big steps in medical oncology

Medical oncology is simply the diagnosis, assessment, treatment and management of patients with cancer.

This discipline has received a boost in the form of targeted chemotherapy, which targets specific receptors on the cancer cells, after a serious molecular study.

“Before, chemotherapy would kill both normal and cancerous cells. This technology is specific to the cancer cells,” notes Dr Nyongesa.

Besides chemotherapy, hormonal therapy has also taken its place in medical oncology as a viable option to the treatment of cancer.Like the improved chemotherapy, hormonal therapy is also targeted on the cancer cells that express hormonal receptors.

 4. Move over, radiotherapy! Here comes brachytherapy, the timesaver

Anyone who has gone through radiotherapy to will testify that they went through 5-6 weeks of an intense treatment programme, took another two weeks to rest and heal and went back to their lives. Well, worry no more.

Radiotherapy has now been compressed to just one week- thanks to a new technology- Brachytherapy.

The main benefit of breast brachytherapy compared the conventional radiotherapy is that a high dose of radiation can be applied to the tumor while sparing radiation to healthy breast tissues and underlying structures such as the ribs and lungs.

Brachytherapy ensures that working women, the elderly or women without easy access to a treatment centre, are able to benefit from breast-conserving therapy due to its short nature, compared to the traditional radiotherapy.

“This means that you can be operated on this week, go through radiotherapy next week and report to work after another week because brachytherapy reduces treatment period from 5-7 week to 4-5 days,” says Dr Nyongesa.

5. The much awaited PET scan

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Computed Tomography (CT) imaging have become essential diagnostic tools physicians use to reveal the presence and severity of cancers.

PET/CT scan helps physicians effectively pinpoint the source of cancer and detect whether cancer is isolated to one specific area or has spread to other organs.

“They give superior images of the whole body in a bid to tell if the cancer has spread. This is a big improvement from the conventional ultra-sound and x-ray used before,” says Dr.Nyongesa.

6. Reconstruct your confidence; Go for breast reconstruction surgery

Mastectomy robs you off not only your breast, but also your self-esteem and general confidence as a whole. Not anymore. Breast reconstruction is a type of surgery for women who have had a breast removed (mastectomy).

The surgery rebuilds the breast mound so that it is about the same size and shape as it was before. And yes, the nipple and the darker area around the nipple (areola) can also be added.

But that’s just the good news, better news is, you can have both a mastectomy and a reconstruction surgery at the same time, and walk out of the theater almost the same way you came in, only cancer free this time.

While it may be a bit expensive, you are advised to go for it if you can afford it. A reconstruction makes life a whole lot easier-you can swim, run, exercise and strut your stuff in a bikini because it is very natural.