Breast Cancer: Understanding Mastectomies & Providing Emotional Support
Breast cancer is the number one cancer affecting Singaporean women with more than 1000 new cases annually, however, it is highly treatable if it is detected early. Better education around the topic will lead to increased awareness, early detection, and higher rates of treatment success.
What are the symptoms and risk factors of breast cancer?
Risk factors include genetic factors such as age, gender (although breast cancer can form in men, women are much likelier to have it), family history, and dense breast tissue. The lack of physical activity, obesity, and alcohol consumption can also contribute to an increased risk of breast cancer. Women above the age of 50 are encouraged to get mammograms done yearly.
How to detect breast cancer?
In the case of breast cancer, forming an understanding of what causes it, how to detect it, and what treatment options are available is crucial. One of the first few things that women need to be taught is how they can perform self-examinations. With this knowledge, women can immediately identify if their breasts look or feel any different a week after their menstrual cycles. Early detection is key to a high success rate in treatments.
Self-examination, together with regular physical exams by a doctor, can be effective in screening. What should you look for in a breast self-examination?
Any unusual change to the size, shape and colour of your breasts
Any distortion or swelling
Excretion of fluid from one or both nipples (could be milky, yellow, watery or have blood in it)
Feel your breasts for any lumps
That said, finding a lump is not a cause for panic. Breast lumps can be pretty common and most of the time, they turn out to be benign (non-cancerous). However, you should still call your doctor for a check-up just to rule out any concerns you may have.
A mammogram is currently one of the most reliable screening tools for breast cancer. Even if you’re feeling well, the Health Promotion Board recommends going for annual mammograms for women past the age of 50. Essentially an x-ray examination of the breast, the mammogram is able to capture any abnormalities within the breast. The examination may cause discomfort and even pain for some women, nonetheless, your health should always be the priority – especially in the case of breast cancer detection.
Good education around breast cancer involves inculcating knowledge around risk factors, healthy lifestyles, and positive mindsets towards regular mammograms. Because breast cancer can affect women of all ages and backgrounds, developing stronger relationships with other female friends can count for a support system that encourages healthy and well-balanced living. It also creates a safe space for women to share their concerns and/or troubles.
Simple or total mastectomy: Removal of the whole breast. This includes the nipple, the pigmented skin around the nipple and the top layer of skin.
Modified radical mastectomy: Similar to the total mastectomy but it also includes the removal of lymph nodes (a part of the body’s immune system).
Radical mastectomy: Advised when the breast cancer spreads to chest muscles, the radical mastectomy involves removal of the entire breast and the chest wall muscles.
Partial mastectomy: Also known as the lumpectomy, this type of mastectomy aims to only remove the part of the breast that has cancer.
Subcutaneous mastectomy: This type of mastectomy is used to remove small areas of suspicious or cancerous tissue without causing a great amount of scarring.
When is a mastectomy an ideal option? It boils down to preferences as well as the pros and cons. Some of the reasons why a mastectomy may be preferred include having had radiation therapy before or being unable to, a preference for surgery, being pregnant, or having inflammatory breast cancer among others. However, do note that mastectomies do not guarantee a cancer-free life.
Emotionally supporting women who’ve had mastectomies
The impact of a mastectomy can take a toll on the emotional well-being of women due to the loss of positive self-image women may experience post-surgery. When there is so much emphasis on body image, attractiveness, and femininity in the appearance of breasts, this is not surprising.
Some women may consider reconstruction to restore the appearance. Whatever your choice may be, it is incredibly important that you consult your doctor and go with the decision that you are comfortable with and are medically cleared for.
Positive reinforcement, strong support systems, and self-care can also help to mitigate these emotional effects. Here are some ways you can show emotional support for a loved one who has undergone a mastectomy:
Form a support group network to check in on them regularly
Ensure that they have nutritious meals pre- and post-surgery
Offer to spend time with them – you can do simple activities like conversing, watching a movie together or going on short walks.
That said, having survived breast cancer itself is a show of strength and there is no better show of femininity and beauty than that.
Ask for caregiving services from our JagaPros
The financial and emotional weight of caregiving on a full-time basis can be challenging. Jaga-Me seeks to resolve that with our suite of caregiving services. With our home care services, you can entrust in our expertise and partner with our nurses to provide your loved one with manageable day-to-day life.
For more information on acquiring support for loved ones, read more here.
Find out more about Jaga-Me and our services here.
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