Medical Officer of Health for St. James, Dr. Marcia Johnson-Campbell, is encouraging women over the age of 40 and those with a family history of breast cancer to do yearly mammograms and self-checks to facilitate early detection of breast cancer.
“Breast cancer is the most common cause of death of women in Jamaica. While it tends to occur in persons over 40, younger persons have also been diagnosed – particularly persons who have a strong family history of breast cancer; they are particularly at risk,” she tells JIS News.
“There are some persons who are also at risk because they carry a particular gene, the BRCA 1 and the BRCA 2 genes. It is not very common in our population; certainly there are in some other populations, which have an increased risk,” she adds.
The common symptoms of breast cancer include swelling or a lump in the breast, dimpling of the skin, pain, retraction of the nipple, swollen lymph nodes and in some cases when the cancer has spread beyond the breast, shortness of breath and bone pains.
“For the most part, we would want to identify [breast cancer] before there are any signs or symptoms; even before you can feel a lump in the breast, we would like to be able to identify the disease. In order to do that, we would need to do the mammogram, that is the gold standard,” Dr. Johnson-Campbell states.
“So we encourage every woman, 40 years and older, to have a mammogram done. Our guidelines are changing a little bit, so the final guidelines are not quite out. Right now, we ask every woman over 40 to have a mammogram done every year. Guidelines may change in terms of the frequency of the mammogram. It might change to say every two years as opposed to every year,” she adds.
Dr. Johnson-Campbell is also encouraging women to become familiar with their breasts, so if there are any changes, they will be able to identify them.
“We recommend that women do a breast self-examination every month about the same time. Usually, we use the monthly period as a marker, so maybe after the period ends because the breast tends to be a little bit tender around the time of the period, and we teach persons how to examine the breast,” the Medical Officer says.
“[Women] can stand looking in the mirror at the breast to ensure that one is not too much bigger than the other… you are also looking to see if there is any retracting of the nipple or dimpling of the skin. Then use the tips of your fingers to examine the breast in a circular motion and as well as under the arm,” Dr. Johnson-Campbell explains.
She adds that women should have their breasts examined by a healthcare professional at least once per year “because sometimes you may miss things, if your healthcare professional also does an examination once a year, then that can be helpful in identifying [the disease] early”.
She notes that early detection is very important, as there is more adequate and appropriate treatment that can be done at that stage.
“[Treatment] would usually include surgery at this point and then surgery can be accompanied by chemotherapy and radiotherapy depending on the discussions with the doctor. There is also hormone therapy that can be added,” she explains.
Dr. Johnson-Campbell says persons who are obese, consume alcohol, as well as persons who smoke, are at a higher risk of getting the disease.
Women who do not have any children, as well as women who have had children but have not breast fed, also stand a greater risk of getting breast cancer.
She also warns that taking certain birth control pills also present some risks, adding that women who are postmenopausal are also susceptible to contracting the disease.