By Annabel Cooper
Dr. Chris Fosker is Director of Oncology at King Edward VII Hospital and Medical Director and Radiation Oncologist at Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre. He explains how we can help ourselves detect the early signs of breast cancer and increase our chances of preventing it.
“In terms of prevention, the more manageable things that ladies and men can do revolve around lifestyle,” he says. “Being an ideal weight, exercising regularly and drinking less alcohol are the three big things because these are elements you can manage.”
When it comes to detection, Dr. Fosker says that there are a package of measures, beginning in our 20s with regular breast exams, progressing to physicals with a general practitioner in your 30s, and then onto annual mammograms in your 40s. These ages are guidelines. There are other individual factors to consider, which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor, especially if there is a family history of breast cancer.
“The most common reason to be regarded as high risk is a family history and the most common gene associated with breast cancer is the BRCA gene,” he continues. “This is a conversation to have with yourdoctor, and if he or she is worried, patients can be referred to the genetic counselling service through Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre.”
For those with more usual circumstances, regular breast self-exams are recommended monthly. “A lot of women worry they’ll do it wrong, but just do it regularly so you spot any changes,” says Dr. Fosker. Mammograms are encouraged once you turn 40 based on the body of evidence gathered since the medical profession first began using mammograms in the 1980s. “Over the last 40 years, we have learned how beneficial they are in the early detection of breast cancer,” says Dr. Fosker, who adds that “mammograms pick up about 60 percent of all breast cancers.”
While the statistics point to the benefits of regular mammograms, the process or discomfort of having one doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some women fear what the mammogram might find. “Some people don’t like to know,” says Dr. Fosker. “Cancer is a provocative and emotive condition.” Others worry about the radiation involved in getting a mammogram.
However, Dr. Fosker emphasizes that “a mammogram only has a tiny amount of radiation. The benefits outweigh the risks.” Some women are also concerned about the expense of the treatment,but they shouldn’t be because “mammograms come under the standard health benefit. There shouldn’t ever be a co-pay.”
Not only does early detection of breast cancer dramatically increase your survival rate, it can also mean simpler treatment. “If you have very early-stage breast cancer, the treatment is likely to only be surgery and radiation,” says Dr Fosker. “Mammograms can be a way of avoiding chemotherapy.”
With a referral from your doctor, mammograms are offered at the hospital, Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre, Ultimate Imaging and HMC Burnaby Urgent Care & Medical Imaging.