Muscat: When most people hear the term breast cancer, they probably don’t immediately think of men.
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So often, we assume breast cancer is exclusively a women’s disease, said the Head of Breast and Surgical Oncology unit at the Royal Hospital.
“According to the recently published statistics by the Ministry of Health, there were 190 cases of breast and premalignant cancer, that is in situ tumour, and out of those, 176 were confirmed as breast cancer cases in women and 10 in men,” said Prof. Taha Al Lawati, Head of Breast and Surgical Oncology unit at Royal Hospital. The remaining four cases were of women in pre-cancer stage, he added.
“Unfortunately, because of the anatomic structure of men, it appears at a relatively late stage than in the case of a woman as there is no fat to capture the tumour. So, the tumour infiltrates easily in the skin and muscle of men,” said Al Lawati.
He added that both men and women will mostly experience the same symptoms that include changes at the skin level such as the retraction or swelling of the skin, nipple retraction, ulceration or nipple discharge. “However, men will experience more swelling as there is not much fat, mainly bloody nipple discharge and swelling of the axilla, which means the swelling of the armpit.”
Talking about the difference between the detection of breast cancer in men and women, the expert, who is also one of the board members of the Oman Cancer Association (OCA) and the Chairman of the Scientific Committee at OCA, said that women have defined pathways.
“For women, there is a screening mammogram and mobile unit which we have at the OCA. It goes around the city, and from next month, will be going to all the Governorates of Oman, raising breast cancer awareness and examining women above the age of 40. Also, they will be handed self-breast examination pamphlets that teach and help them to inspect themselves.”
“However, breast cancer in men will only be noticeable if there is an abnormal lump and a nipple discharge, which is mainly bloody. In this case, a man needs to consult the doctor who will do the needful by testing it in a way, which we call triple assessment. That means the doctor will assess the lump by clinically examining it and taking the patient’s history, taking a biopsy from the lump and performing radiological x-rays,” said Al Lawati. He added that when these three methods are performed together, it gives them a 97 to 99 per cent diagnosis confidence of what is going on inside the body of a patient.
Al Lawati emphasised that in either case, one should not act like a doctor and should always seek consultation from experts as they are trained to treat these cases.
“I always tell my patients not to be worried as this will increase the chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, etc. Being faithful and relaxed are very important in terms of getting any treatment as it helps with better immunity, and cancer is a weakness of the immunity.”
“It is very important for a patient to have tranquillity, support of the family and comfort with the treatment to get through this period,” the professor said.
With respect to the treatment, the professor explained that men and women go through the same procedure in terms of chemotherapy but the surgery and radiotherapy differ from case to case.
“Many a times, women do not require radiotherapy but it is essential for men as there is no space to protect the muscle as it is either closely linked to it or involves the muscle. When we are treating women, we start with chemotherapy ahead of the surgery to shrink the tumour to make the surgery much easier and to get better safety margins when we resect the tumour. So far, at Royal Hospital, we have succeeded 70 per cent in getting female patients out of surgery with preserving their breast(s) either by doing immediate reconstruction or breast-preserving surgery,” Al Lawati said.
He added that all this could be easily avoided if people made an effort to make health a priority and go for regular check-ups.
“There are numerous side effects associated with the treatment of breast cancer which is not only painful but also influences the lifestyle of the patient(s). People need not be afraid of getting it checked on a regular basis but should be worried about the disease we call cancer,” Al Lawati said.