Updated: Jan 8
October is annually observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the leading cancer in Saint Lucia, and 1 in 16 Saint Lucian women are at risk of getting breast cancer.
Herstoire was honored to host a very informative discussion with Dr.Tamara Remy, Consultant General Surgeon, and President of the Saint Lucia Cancer Society. Based on our insightful conversation, here are some common questions and answers about breast cancer.
Part 2: Breast Cancer Screening, Treatment Options, Support
Question: What are the recommended screening measures? How are they accessed in Saint Lucia?
Perform self breast examinations to get accustomed to how breasts feel and look regularly
Do this monthly (pick a day per month that you can easily remember)
If breasts feel or look different than usual visit a health center or general practitioner, then referral to a surgeon can be provided if necessary
Question: Who should get a mammogram? How often should women have a mammogram done? What age should we begin screening?
Mammograms give pictures of both breasts and shows calcifications
An average risk woman (no genetic history) who is 45 years or older should get a mammogram once a year
If mammogram is normal from ages 45-55, then women over 55 can have mammogram every 2 years
A high risk woman (has genetic history) should start getting a mammogram 10 years younger than when immediate family member was diagnosed
Should continue getting a mammogram once a year when over 55 years
Question: Does radiation from a mammogram contribute to breast cancer?
Radiation exposure during a mammogram is equivalent to what people get naturally, so the benefits of a mammogram outweigh the risks.
CT scans and x-rays have more radiation than a mammogram.
Question: What are the treatment options? How long will treatment last?
Treatment depends on the person’s age and the stage of cancer.
Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy.
Question: What are the surgical options?
Lumpectomy: removing section of the breasts
Mastectomy: removing entire breast/s
Question: Does removing one’s breasts reduce the risk of breast cancer? What are the chances that the cancer will recur?
Preventive/Prophylactic mastectomy is reserved for people with positive genetic disposition; they have been tested for the gene and have a 60% or 80% chance of developing breast cancer.
Even if breasts are removed, there is a 5% chance of recurrence since 5% of tissue has to be left during mastectomy.
Question: At what stage is chemotherapy required? What is the difference between radiation and chemotherapy?
Radiation as treatment is applied to the area where breasts were located. Radiation is used with a mastectomy or lumpectomy.
Caribbean islands which provide radiation include Guyana, Martinique, and Cuba.
Question: What are the risks/side effects of chemotherapy?
During chemotherapy, hair can fall out, nails can turn black and have lines. The tongue and lining of the stomach can also be affected.
There can be medications given to minimize some effects, but none for hair and nails.
There can be medications given to boost bone marrow and placenta, but they are expensive.
Question: What resources for support are available in Saint Lucia?
Financial associations: NCF, Medical Assistance Fund, Cancer Society
Family and friends
Survivor Groups (other persons who have gone through similar experiences) including Faces of Cancer, Saint Lucia Cancer Society
Question: Are there ways to reduce the likelihood of breast cancer? What lifestyle changes can be done to improve quality of life after treatment?
Healthy diet: balanced diet, eat fruits and vegetables, avoid preservatives and sugars
Be sure to check out Part 1 where we cover an overview of Breast Cancer: Types/Stages, Signs, Symptoms, and Risk Factors. To gain even more insights, feel free to check out our recorded discussion with Dr. Remy here. https://youtu.be/M8hv7uz3XnY