by Dr Anthony Egboh, WAFFL Doctor
There was once a time when the mention of a lump wasn’t given a second thought. Comments like “it’s just a lump”, or “just leave it alone, it’ll go away on its own” were commonly said and believed. Fast forward to the present day and now the mere mention of a lump results in alarm bells.
Increased awareness has been a positive factor in bringing potentially serious medical symptoms to light which previously had been ignored. Unfortunately this has also led to increased anxiety and panic, where every lump is now thought to be a form of cancer.
The one lump that should never be ignored is a breast lump. These require attention and a thorough examination. Breast lumps are not only limited to women. They can also be of significance in men as well. Contrary to popular belief, men can also develop breast tissue in a condition called ‘Gynecomastia’ and develop lumps. Due to stigma and ignorance, men usually shy away from visiting a doctor when it should be addressed.
Ideally a woman should know how to self-examine her own breasts. If not, she should be taught. Commonly breast lumps are incidentally felt while the person is bathing or noted by their partners. This normally triggers worry. The inevitable question is whether it’s cancer? Understandably this is an expected reaction and a prompt visit to your local doctor should be the next course of action.
Your local doctor normally would ask about the breast lump and inquire about the patient’s relevant medical background. This includes risk factors for breast cancer, like, age, smoking, obesity, family history of breast cancer , genetic factors, western style diet, excess alcohol consumption, contraception and lack of exercise.
The next stage would be a breast examination to determine what the breast lump is. It is important to note that the doctor may not always give an exact diagnosis at the point of examination. He may reveal his suspicions but will always seek to clarify his diagnosis. This would normally result in a referral to a breast unit near to you.
At a breast unit a thorough breast examination is conducted and a mammogram (breast ultrasound) is arranged to further aid in reaching a diagnosis. A doctor or nurse specialist will then discuss the findings and formulate any further investigations that may be needed.
Not all lumps in the breast are cancers. There are quite a few breast conditions that cause lumps in the breast but are harmless. Examples include:
- Fibroadenomas which are non-cancerous growths in the breast
- Fibrocystic changes which are round, fluid-filled sacks (cysts) that develop within breast tissue
- Breast abscesses – Painful accumulation of pus under the breast due to infection
Regardless of such examples, a formal assessment needs to be made.
Breast screening program
In light of these important points, it’s worthwhile for all women to partake in the National Breast Cancer Screening Program. The purpose of the program is to detect small tumours/growths before they become noticeable on a breast examination. Early detection and diagnosis leads to better treatment and survival rates. Women are normally called between the ages of 50 and 70. Regardless of this, any woman has the right to present to her local doctor for examination.
I feel it is also important for mothers to make it their responsibility to teach their adolescent daughters to self-examine and be aware of their breasts. It can be a difficult subject and some may find the process uncomfortable but I feel it’s necessary as it potentially could save lives. A good source of information is patient.co.uk. YouTube has plenty of video demonstrations on how to perform self-examination as an added resource.
The significance of breast lumps cannot be understated and certainly cannot be ignored. However, if you find a lump, be sensible and see a doctor before jumping to conclusions. In the meantime reduce your risks by eating healthily, avoid smoking and consuming alcohol excessively. Interestingly there are many people that claim they cannot stop smoking and I fully understand that it is difficult. However when a diagnosis of cancer is made, they then stop smoking. In most instances the cancer specialists will make it a requirement to stop smoking to improve chances for treatment. It begs the question why did the diagnosis of cancer have to occur first before being able to stop smoking. Help for smoking is readily available via smoking cessation clinics in your local area.
At WAFFL we always try to educate clients and users towards a healthy lifestyle. Knowledge is key and evidently will help to reduce the likelihood of illness and disease which unfortunately is part of life. A well-known quote used within the medical profession states “prevention is always better than cureˮ. Therefore we all should do what we can do to prevent without ever needing a cure.