Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A check-up in time saves lives

Self-examination, a mammogram or an ultrasound are the various methods that can be used to detect the signs of breast cancer. Many lives can be saved as a result. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month

By Shevlin Sebastian

There is a knock on Dr. Thomas Varughese’s room at Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi, on a weekday evening. “Come in,” says the senior consultant oncologist surgeon. In walks Baby Abraham, a senior manager in a bank, accompanied by two daughters, who are working in the IT industry in Bangalore and Chennai. “Doctor, I want to say a big thanks,” says Baby.

Thomas nods, and says, “Last week, when I met you for the first time, all of you looked so worried.” The family smiles happily, as Baby says, “We were in hell then and now we are in heaven.”

Sometime ago, Baby’s wife, Geeta, 56, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was like a bombshell,” she tells me later. “Our family was stunned. We did not know what to do. We could not sleep the entire night.”

For months, she had pinpricks of pain but there were no lumps in her breast, so she ignored it. “I was busy in my job as a manager in a bank,” she says. “I had a suspicion it was cancer, but was terrified of losing my breast.”

It was only recently that she consulted a doctor in a leading private hospital. After the examination, the doctor said that mastectomy or breast removal would have to be done. However, somebody recommended the name of Dr. Thomas, who propagates the retaining of the breast in the early stages of cancer.

Says Thomas: “Studies have shown that whether you preserve or take out the breasts, the woman lives for the same number of years. So I prefer to do organ preservation, because a breast is a symbol of femininity. It is a symbol of womanhood, beauty, and self-esteem for a woman and should never be taken off.”

The surgery was done on a Tuesday, and by Thursday, Geeta had left the hospital. Thanks to his drainless surgical technique, which, Thomas says, will be patented soon, a patient is discharged within 24 hours. In the usual method, used by other surgeons, there are tubes and drains which stick out of the breast. It necessitates repeated aspirations of the armpit which lasts for weeks. “It is a cumbersome process, whereas my procedure takes only five days,” says Thomas.

Incidentally, more than 90% of the population is unaware that in the early stages, breasts can be preserved after the cancerous area is removed. “Because of the fear of losing their breasts, many women report the lumps too late,” he says.

There are a few tools available for early detection. Self examination is the cheapest and the best. “The right time to do one is during the mid-cycle of menstruation,” says Thomas. The woman has to stand in front of the mirror, hands on either side. When the hands are raised, the nipples should be at the same level. “If there is a slight difference, there could be a possibility of cancer,” says Thomas. “If there is swelling underneath, the level will be different.”

The other methods include the mammogram, and the ultra sound. A mammogram should be done after you turn 40. If you get the all-clear, you can do it once in three to four years. But an ultrasound should be done every year.

Today, breast cancer is the No. 1 killer disease among women. And, increasingly, it is younger women who are falling prey. They delay marriage, pregnancy and have fewer children. Thereafter, most women tend to avoid breast-feeding. “During breast-feeding, a hormone called prolactin is released,” says Thomas. “This protects the breasts. So, the more children you breast-feed, the more protection there is for the breasts.”

But since breast-feeding is decreasing in importance, Thomas recommends brisk walking every day. “A lot of positive hormones like adrenal, insulin, and thyroid-stimulating hormones are released during exercise,” he says. “Essentially, it stimulates the immune system.”

The right diet is also important. “The major part of our diet should be vegetables,” says Thomas. “For proteins, we think meat is good. However, the protein content of legumes and pulses are much superior to those found in meat. Meat, when it is cooked, undergoes denaturing. A lot of toxins are liberated. These are very harmful.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Thomas says, “I plead with women to consult a doctor as soon as they detect a lump in their breasts. Early detection will save breasts.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)