All About Breast Cancer in Jamaica

Breast Cancer is the second most common cancer in Jamaica and the most common cancer in Jamaican women. A majority of women with breast cancer in Jamaica are diagnosed when the cancer is advanced. And today, World Cancer Day, Jamaica Moves will highlight vital information about Breast Cancer, and other common cancers in Jamaica in an effort to encourage everyone to be vigilant and for those at risk to screen for the disease.

Jamaica Moves spoke with General, Advanced Laparoscopic, Bariatric and Robotic Surgeon, Dr. Lindberg Simpson and Senior Radiologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), Dr. Derria Cornwall, to break down some of the details of breast cancer in Jamaica.

What are some common myths about breast cancer? Dr. Lindberg k. Simpson shares:

  • Myth- Breast Cancer always causes pain

Fact- Breast cancer presents most commonly as a painless lump in the breast and only a small minority causes pain.

  • Myth- You will only get breast cancer is someone in your family had or has it

Fact- You can still develop breast cancer if no one else in your family has it.

  • Myth- Having breast cancer means a woman has to get her breast removed

Fact- Being diagnosed with cancer does NOT mean you have to do a mastectomy (removal of the breast).

  • Myth- The lump in your breast is called by deodorant or roll-on

Fact- The lump in your breast is unlikely to be due to your deodorant/ roll-on.

  • Myth- Stage 4 breast cancer cannot be treated

Fact- For stage 4 cancer current treatments can improve quality and also prolong life. However, the earlier treatment is started, the better the prognosis.

What is the incidence of breast cancer in Jamaica?

In Jamaica, it is projected that one in every 21 women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.

And in Jamaica, one third of all breast cancer presents in women younger than 50 years old, which is the globally recommended age to start screening for breast cancer.

What are the risk factors associated with breast cancer?

Women are most at risk for breast cancer in Jamaica. But it is estimated that 1 in every 3,333 men is projected to get breast cancer in Jamaica.

Other risk factors include:

  • Age. The risk of getting breast cancer increases with age

  • Family history. Women who have a family history of breast cancer are at increased risk of breast cancer

Breast cancer has also been linked to diet and exercise, specifically the following:

  • A fatty diet

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Obesity

  • Lack of exercise (sedentary lifestyle)

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer Presenting in Jamaica? The can include:

  • Lump in the breast

  • Lump in the underarm

  • Bloody nipple discharge

  • Changes in the colour of the skin on the breast

  • The breast has an orange peel look (Peau d’orange)

  • A rash on the nipple or breast (Paget’s Disease)

“Once a woman has reached the age of 40, whether or not her breasts look and feel ‘fine’, we advise her to get a mammogram done yearly.” - Dr. Derria Cornwall.

Screening for Breast Cancer in Jamaica

Unfortunately, only about 10% of Jamaican women are screened for breast cancer. And according to Dr. Cornwall, “On the flip side we are actually picking up more than 70% of our cancers late.”

Screening is key to preventing death from breast cancer.

Teens and young women

Considering that one third of breast cancer in Jamaica occurs in women below the age of 50, girls and young women should do monthly breast examinations to detect changes in the breast. These changes can include changes in the texture of the skin/nipple, colour, lumps, discharge, or any other change in the breast.

If there are changes in the breast(s), it should be brought to the attention of a doctor.

Women with a family history of breast cancer

For those women who know they have a family history of, or the genetic mutations associated with breast cancer, they should consult with professionals carefully and may be recommended to undergo a mammogram from as early as 35 years old.

It is also recommended that they too do a monthly breast examination to detect any changes in the breast. If there are changes, bring it to the attention of a doctor.

All women, including those who are 50 years and older, should conduct their self examination and check for changes in the breasts; if there are, report those changes to a doctor.

Women who are 40 years and older

In Jamaica, mammograms are the gold standard for breast cancer screening. And women who are 40 years and older are generally recommended to get a mammogram done yearly. For older women, the recommended intervals to do a mammogram may depend on personal history and a doctor will determine whether a mammogram is done yearly or every two years.

Fear of the Mammogram

“A lot of women fear mammograms because they hear that it is painful. But that comes down to technique. There are techniques to try to alleviate the pain as much as possible or the discomfort of the mammogram. But one must remember that breast cancer itself, if caught late, is much more painful than the little squeeze of a mammogram to catch it early.” Dr. Cornwall added.

Men and breast cancer

Dr. Cornwall also urges men to be aware of any changes in their breast(s) which are to be reported to their doctor.

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