By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
While we’re all on the lookout for symptoms of coronavirus, other health issues can still arise. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s important to take the time to learn about this life-threatening disease, no matter what else is going on. After all, the earlier it’s diagnosed, the better chance of survival.
Approximately 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Between 5 and 10% of these cancers are genetically determined, while lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol and diet can also play a role. Though men get breast cancer too, women are much more likely to do so, especially as they get older.
When caught early, breast cancer is easily treated and very often cured. It’s therefore critical that women check their breasts regularly. Get to know what is normal for you – every woman’s breasts are different sizes, shapes and consistency – and then do regular checks for any changes.
It is quick and easy to check your breasts at home. Start by looking at your breasts in a mirror, first with your arms by your sides, then with them raised above your head. Next, feel each breast and armpit all the way to the collarbone, applying a firm pressure.
A lump, thickening or bumpy area is the most well-known sign. However, you also need to look for changes in the size, shape or feel of the breast, and check the nipple for discharge, bleeding, rashes or other skin changes. If ANY of these symptoms appear, and/or if you experience a new, ongoing pain in one or both breasts, it’s important to raise this with your GP as soon as possible.
While symptoms are not always visible, mammograms (x-rays of the breast) can detect tumours long before they become apparent. That’s why women undergo breast cancer screening. You are encouraged to start screening from the age of 40, and from 45 women should have a mammogram every year. If you missed your appointment due to lockdown or the consequent reduction in services, don’t panic – simply contact your GP to discuss your next screening.
So, what happens if you are diagnosed? A cancer diagnosis is frightening at any point, let alone in the midst of a pandemic, but rest assured treatments are still going ahead. Cancer is always treated urgently and your healthcare team will assess the risks posed by coronavirus against your treatment needs.
As with all urgent care, health services are working tirelessly to deliver the treatment needed while keeping patients and staff as safe as possible. Strict infection control measures are in place, and many services are reducing the number of hospital visits and/or the time patients spend within the hospital building. Many cancer treatments like chemotherapy can severely weaken the immune system, and changes are being made to keep such patients away from high-risk facilities like large hospitals.
It’s also critical that you can access support. If your immune system is compromised due to breast cancer treatment, it’s important to limit your close contact to the one or two people you need most like your parent or partner. Those helping you should also keep their social interaction to a minimum. Avoid crowded areas and public transport, wear your mask and follow your healthcare team’s advice.
From screening information to supporting a loved one through breast cancer, your local pharmacy is here to help – remotely or in person. We can provide lifestyle support to lower your risk (such as Nicorette gum, patches or lozenges, or Nicotinell patches) to help you to quit smoking , as well as simple remedies for the side effects of cancer treatment (mild, unscented soaps like Dr. Bronner’s or Nesti Dante unscented bar soaps can soothe skin irritated from chemotherapy and feel very luxurious too!). Most of all, we can listen and answer any questions. Awareness could save your life.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.