It is October, a month dedicated to raise awareness of breast cancer and I cannot think of a better time to write this column. In June I was diagnosed with (luckily) stage 1 invasive lobular carcinoma - a rare form of cancer.
I am not writing this piece to gain sympathy, but instead encourage women to take note of my symptoms and take time to observe their bodies closely once in a while. I had an itchy nipple which I initially thought was due to dryness or a case of insect bite.
The itch went away, but left a small lump on the surface of the nipple. I knew this was not normal and so I made an emergency appointment with my gynecologist, Dr Houriya Kazim at the Well Woman Clinic. She is a breast surgeon and someone I have been consulting for a long time.
Dr. Kazim did all the necessary tests to rule out a breast tumour. I did a mammogram, an ultra sound, a pet scan and all the tests came normal. But my mind was not at peace. I wanted to doubly make sure I was okay. My doctor insisted on doing a biopsy of the lump the same day.
The way it works, if a biopsy comes back negative, it means there is no cancer and the breast change is benign (not cancer). If you still feel unsure of the result, you can get a second opinion or a pathology review from another doctor who can take a look at your biopsy tissue again. Once you are convinced, be sure to take regular mammograms, get routine breast exams. Be more observant about changes in your breast and speak to your doctor straight away.
But if the biopsy comes positive – like it did in my case – it is a straight-forward result. You then have to start planning on your next moves and learn as much as you can about the cancer.
First it is important to understand if the cancer is in situ or invasive. In situ means that the cancer has started in a duct and has not spread to the nearby breast tissue or other organs. Invasive or infiltrating cancer starts in the duct and spreads to the nearby breast tissue. It spreads to the lymph nodes if untreated and can spread to other body parts through the lymph system and bloodstream.
Since I was detected with stage 1 invasive lobular carcinoma, I insisted on having a double mastectomy as I have a family history of breast cancer. It sounds scary – but I am glad I did this as it saved my life. My message to all the women out there – don’t be afraid to do more tests if you are not satisfied. Without becoming paranoid keep a check on your body changes.
- The writer is a breast cancer survivor. As told to Anjana Kumar, Staff Reporter