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Breast Cancer Update: What Every Interested Person Should Know

Today we attended the 4th Annual Women’s Health Symposium at Clemenceau Medical Center (CMC), organized in partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine International. Although the symposium was targeted mostly towards doctors and medical professionals, we benefitted greatly from the community lecture “Breast Cancer Update: What Every Interested Person Should Know” by Dr. Nagi Khouri.

Nagi Khouri, M.D. – Director, Division of Breast Imaging at Johns Hopkins Medicine

The presentation started with a focus on the growing numbers of breast cancer cases around the world. Now although it may appear that there’s many more cases in Lebanon than other parts of the world, that’s in large part due to the smaller population ratio.

.. the percentage of breast cancer, even though by incidence is a lot lower, it appears to be that we actually see by percentages and by numbers a larger number of young women because there is so many more [by population]. It’s not that the risk is increasing.. That’s very important to understand.

The highest number of cases recorded were in North America, Western Europe and Australia. Numbers are however increasing in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In 2010, 1.5 million cases were recorded worldwide – almost double what it was in 1990. It’s important to note though that the curve of survival has also changed in the past 20 years due to drastic improvements in treatment.

Worldwide Breast Cancer Incidence Rates

Turning then towards the risk factors leading to breast cancer, Dr. Khouri explained that:

One of the most important questions for any women is: Am I at risk for developing breast cancer? And who is at risk? Many women say “I’m not getting a mammogram.. We don’t have any predisposing factor”.. 75% of women who develop breast cancer [in fact] share two risk factors: Being a woman and increasing age – usually after the age of 40.. So basically, every woman is at risk for developing breast cancer.. When there’s a family history, it’s an added risk.

It’s recommended that all women as of the age of 40 do an annual mammography (and not every other year as other practices may advocate). Dr. Khouri stressed this point several times during the presentation. 60% (if not more, which is the goal) of breast cancers should be picked up without anyone actually feeling anything in the breast.

The density of breasts actually plays a major role in the detection process. Fat in the breast is actually “a blessing” that renders the breast transparent in the mammogram and revealing any abnormality more clearly than in denser tissues. Women with implants will need to take twice as many pictures and it’s also dependent on where the implant is placed with regards to the breast muscle (ie. in front or behind the muscle).

Mammography is not perfect and its sensitivity will differ by case but it’s the best thing we have so far.

How do we know that mammographies save lives? Remember, mammography is only for detection. If a woman detects breast cancer but doesn’t get treated, then we haven’t really achieved anything..

In the Arab world 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are not at the curable stages (stage 3 and 4) which was the case in the Western world 30 years ago. Why such a large discrepancy in the developing world? It’s due to a lack of awareness, education and early detection – and getting the full treatment of course.

Image Source: WebMD

Dr. Khouri also brought up a significant point regarding the importance of self-check exams for every woman:

A lot of the cancers are picked up by women in the shower.. I encourage women to be familiar with their breasts and start that education very early on, in their school [for example], so that a woman is not embarrassed to examine herself. I don’t like to say examine – I prefer to say “be familiar”. Get to know your breasts the same way you know about your nose.. It encourages a woman to be responsible and think about her breast health, including doing a clinical examination of the breast periodically.

If you spot a lump in your breast and you get it checked, never leave without knowing why. You need to get an explanation from your physician. Another cautionary point Dr. Khouri brought forward was that all biopsies should be done only with a needle and not through surgery. It actually harms the woman’s cancer treatment if the biopsy is done by surgery.

No surgical biopsies.. No – ZERO! All women should know that.

Patients-focussed breast care is key and should be accessible, timely, sophisticated, coordinated and comprehensive. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions to better understand your condition. That’s where the right kind of awareness and education can also play a significant role in giving the patient options for their treatment.

Those were just a few of the many key points covered in Dr. Khouri’s presentation. All in all, the presentation was very informative but our only regret was that there weren’t enough women in the audience who could have benefitted from this wealth of knowledge. Hopefully the next symposium will attract even more public attention and further spread awareness from a medical perspective.

What’s Happening this Month?

As October comes around each year, we’re reminded through pink ribbons, clever awareness campaigns and the marks of those who’ve been affected by breast cancer about the importance of early detection. Take a few minutes to learn about how to get checked (or teach someone) and show your support by attending any of these upcoming events dedicated to this cause:

Photo from K-Lynn's "Taking the K-Lynn Pledge" Campaign

Beirut:

  • (October-December) Until the end of the year, the Breast Cancer Lebanon campaign will be offering mammograms free-of-charge and the breast ultrasound for 30,000LBP (if needed) at Public Hospitals. In Private Hospitals and Medical Centers, mammograms will be reduced in price to 40,000LBP and breast ultrasounds for 40,000LBP (if needed). Read more here.
  • (Weekend of October 15-16) Spinneys‘ Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign. Read more here.

Dubai:

  • (October 10) SolidariTea Arabia’s “Big Pink Tea Party” is taking place at The Pavilion Downtown Dubai.
  • (Running until October 15) Women of Heart is an exhibition dedicated to cancer fighters and survivors featuring the works of 50 artists from UAE.
  • (October 15) A “Totally Fabulous Pink Bake-Off & BBQ” organized by Breast Cancer Arabia will be taking place from 1-5pm. Now the questions is, which of the 5 teams will make the best cakes? We’ll let the celebrity judges decide. Event taking place at the Park Hyatt Dubai.

Taking place on October 15th from 1-5pm at the Park Hyatt Dubai

  • (October 21) Safe & Sound‘s annual Pink Survivor Fashion Showat BurJuman.
  • (October 21) Breast Cancer Arabia‘s world record attempt to make the largest awareness ribbon. Come and make history! Meeting point: Meydan Grandstand. More information here.
  • (October 24) Bras for a Cause Middle East‘s Dubai Fashion Show and Auction is taking place at The Monarch for one exciting evening of fashion, fun and fabulosity. Not to be missed. Get the full event information and where to grab your tickets here.
  • (October 24) Get your sneakers ready nice and early for the “Pink Walkathon” with Safe & Sound
  • (Throughout October) K-Lynn Lingerie is hosting Taking the K-Lynn Pledge at their Dubai stores with a creative photo-booth reminding all women to get checked or encourage their loved ones to get checked.
  • (Throughout October) Splash’s “Design a T-Shirt” Competition for anyone between the ages of 9 and 19 living in the UAE.

Egypt:

KSA:

Dubai Events Resource: “Here’s how you can help” on Gulf News
Egypt Events Reource: Breast Cancer Foundation of Egypt

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Know of any other interesting Breast Cancer awareness events taking place this month? Email us more information about the event(s) at: onewigstand@gmail.com to post here and share with others.

Don’t be the next target.

Increase your chances of beating breast cancer by detecting it early. There’s no shame in getting a mammography, especially as 1 in 8 women are “targeted” by this disease. It could be you, your sister, your mother, your best friend or your daughter.

It’s time to get checked ladies!

This campaign was launched by the Ministry of Public Health and Hoffmann-La Roche. I’m sure you’ve seen the ad on TV or the billboards.

Commenting on the campaign, Dr. Mohamad Jawad Khalifeh, Lebanese Minister of Public Health said: “Research has consistently demonstrated that early detection can greatly reduce complications, thereby giving women more treatment options and a greater chance at survival. The need to stress on continued and targeted education for future generations of women is highly essential to help save both lives and long term treatment costs.”

“The nation-wide awareness campaign is set to run for three months enabling women to gain access to discounted mammography exams which will remain available till end of December 2010. Participating private hospitals and medical centers across Lebanon will reduce their mammography fees to L.L. 40,000 whilst government hospitals will offer free mammograms during the entire phase of the campaign. A dedicated hotline on 01-511 722 will be open throughout the campaign to answer basic questions related to the campaign, and guide callers to the nearest mammography center.”

You are advised to get checked as early as your 40s. However, from the statistics of younger, and younger women being affected by breast cancer in this region, getting checked in your 30s is even better – with less frequency of course but just as important, especially if you notice abnormalities or have a family history.

For more information about this campaign and about getting checked early, visit the dedicated website: www.roche-arabia.com/fmfiles/re7192006/BCAC/

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References to the campaign and selected quotes derived from press release.

Bras, ribbons and soap..

Nope, not a lingerie shop.

It’s a little stand by AUB’s West Hall promoting AUB’s Breast Cancer Awareness event this coming Tuesday. (More info about the event here) The products you buy from this stand (a collection of dessert-shaped soaps from Beesline stores) go into covering the cost of mammographies for women unable to afford them. It’s all about early detection folks!

I was pleasantly surprised to see two boys tending to the stand covered in pink ribbons and a lacy bra overhead. Both are active members of the committee planning the event – and hey, gotta say, that’s a pretty clever way to meet girls (though it’s not their intention). ;-)

Show your support for this cause by visiting their stand by West Hall, AUB or by attending the big event on Tuesday!

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