Last week, when doctors handed over the diagnosis of advanced breast cancer to Zaheera Khan, 74, she wished she had taken note of the changes she had been feeling in her breasts.
Doctors told Khan (name changed on request) that the tumour in her right breast had got fixed to her chest wall and therefore surgery was not a viable option.
“For the past six months, I had been feeling something lumpy and hard in my right breast. I knew something was amiss but I was scared and didn’t even tell my family. I could have had more options if I had consulted a doctor then,” said the south Mumbai resident.
It was only when a family member saw bloodstains on her blouse a couple of weeks ago that Khan underwent medical tests, which confirmed that the cancer was already in its last (T-4) stage.
Khan is among the several women for whom breast cancer is detected too late. A six-year study done by doctors at PD Hinduja Hospital, Mahim, has found that conventional methods of checking for breast cancer — clinical examination, mammography and ultrasound, sometimes fail to detect the disease early.
In the ongoing study, which began in 2004, 56 patients with nipple discharge were first examined with standard evaluation methods such as clinical examination, mammography and ultrasound and then by the breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Clinical examinations found abnormalities in the milk ducts of 9% of the women, mammography in 23% and ultrasound detected abnormalities in 59% of the cases. Breast MRI proved to be the most sensitive and identified abnormalities in 91.5% of the patients, said doctors.
“Two to 40 % incidence of breast cancer has been reported in medical literature among women complaining of nipple discharge. We thus initiated the study to find out the subtle early signs of any abnormality in the milk ducts in the breast of these patients by using breast MRI,” said Dr Vinay Deshmane, breast cancer surgeon, Hinduja Hospital, who spearheaded the study.
A breast MRI scan is an imaging test that uses powerful magnetic waves to create pictures of the breast and surrounding tissue.