Breast cancer is the most common type of tumour in women. Each year about 1,000 cases are diagnosed in Malaga province and the cure rate is 87%, the director of medical oncology at the Clínico and Regional hospitals, Emilio Alba, has told SUR. Today, 19 October, is World Breast Cancer Day, and experts are taking the opportunity to explain that nowadays there are more effective and precise treatments which have fewer side effects.
Dr Alba said there have been major improvements in surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy over the past 50 years and these have helped to raise the survival rate from breast cancer.
In terms of surgery, fewer mastectomies are carried out these days as doctors prefer to remove the lump instead if they can, and instead of emptying the panel of lymph nodes under the arm only the sentinel node is removed if there is no sign of them being affected by the tumour. These procedures help to prevent lymphoedema (swelling of the arm) and post-mastectomy syndrome.
Radiotherapy has also improved considerably, with very precise equipment and fewer sessions being needed. Whereas some years ago this treatment would have taken six weeks it can now be done in one week in most cases, and sometimes with only partial radiation of the breast.
Chemotherapy has also evolved considerably and now has fewer side effects, and information from genetic analysis means that women whose tumour is low-risk are not subjected to chemotherapy at all.
“All the advances in surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy have reduced the adverse effects of the treatments without compromising the results, and these are often better as well because there are no complications arising from the therapies,” Dr Alba said.
Sometimes, however, mastectomies are necessary and so is removing the lymph nodes. Dr Alba says women should be encouraged to go for preventive screening and have a mammogram every year or two years because it is an essential way of detecting tumours early. He also called on health institutions to ensure that waiting times are as short as possible and that the same level of care is available across the country.
For example, Malaga’s Clínico hospital has no plastic surgery facilities so patients have to be sent to another hospital for reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy and he said it would be better for plastic surgeons to come to the Clínico from other hospitals rather than his patients having to travel elsewhere for their operation.
“I believe in equality of outcomes and that all patients should have the same chances,” he said.