Last year this time, even though I hadn’t planned to, I shared my experience of having for my 1st ever mammogram on the blog. Don’t worry, this isn’t a sob story. I was all clear but I have seen and heard so many stories that turned out differently & I was surprised by many of your comments on the post, online and to me in person following it – I really didn’t expect that. I was also really surprised that my Doctor, Dr Peter Schoub took the time to write a lengthy reply which shed a lot of light for me (do read that post, the guy is a rock star in my books!).
So when Dr Schoub recently suggested the idea of doing an “alternative” cancer piece I was all for it. Gosh, this may help 10 people or no one but either was it will never be a waste in my books. When I decided to have a mammogram done I didn’t know where to start, so I Googled (!!!) & eventually chatted to my GP and ended up at Parklane Radiology.
In Dr Schoub’s words, knowledge is power. Hope you enjoy this piece and learn & share something new from it.
In May of this year Angelina Jolie opted to have a bilateral mastectomy. She had not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but had tested positive for the BRCA (pronounced Braca) gene mutation and as a result elected to have prophylactic surgery to minimize her chances of developing cancer.
While her decision took many people by surprise and may at first glance appear to be radical, it is a relatively common choice made by women with a positive gene test.
Simply put, if a woman tests positive for the BRCA gene mutation (there are a few different genes each with slightly different risk profiles), her lifetime risk of breast cancer is approximately 1 in 2 as opposed to 1 in 12 risk that the general population faces (the risk of ovarian cancer is also markedly increased).
I am often asked by patients whether they too should be tested for the gene and my answer is, that the genetic testing is only recommended in women who have at least one first degree relative (mother/sister), or more than one 2nd degree relatives (e.g. 2 aunts) who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. This is particularly true if the relatives were diagnosed before the age of 40.
I also have patients on the opposite end of the spectrum who assume they are relatively safe since they have no family history of breast cancer. Unfortunately, this is a false assumption. The majority (~60%) of breast cancers are diagnosed in patients with no family history and often, no known risk factors.
The common risk factors related to breast cancer, over and above family history, are:
Women who have not had children
Early menarche (onset of menstrual cycle) and late menopause
Hormone replacement therapy
So, the question is this. If many breast cancers occur in patients without a known family history or one of the above risk factors, where does it leave the average patient?
Firstly, try avoiding the risk factors. (It has been seen that amongst population groups with previously noted low rates of breast cancer, that if their lifestyles change to become more like that of a higher prevalence group, that their chances of developing cancer also increases to match those of the higher risk group)
Secondly, after the age of 40 come for a regular (annual) mammogram and ultrasound. We can’t prevent breast cancer, but if picked up early, it is generally a very treatable condition with good outcomes and long-term survival.
Isn’t it the prettiest doctor’s office you’ve ever seen?! Doesn’t even look like one..
PS Parklane Radiology has now moved out of Netcare Parklane & is right across the road from the hospital. I thought their rooms were pretty nice before but they’re even more plush now – I was there again a few weeks back. And you know how you always have to fill out forms at the doctor’s office especially if it’s your first time there? Well theirs are available for download online – clever!