OCTOBER is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and as the month rolls on you will get a great deal of information on how to identify the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and how to make sure you can catch it early.
Understanding what routes to take should you find a sign or if you've already been diagnosed with breast cancer are equally important. Particularly amid a global pandemic, treatment of a possible life-altering illness such as breast cancer cannot be put on hold. Thankfully, technology has stepped in to replace some of the anxiety and inconveniences in-person doctor visits pose during COVID-19. Unearthing the pros and cons of telemedicine in treating breast cancer can help you decide if it is a suitable option for you.
Telemedicine for early detection of breast cancer
Some symptoms of breast cancer may be invisible and some may be far more noticeable. Paying attention to your body and doing at-home screening is always the first step in identifying the risks for breast cancer. Some of the signs and symptoms to look out for when doing your home checks are:
• A lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area.
• A change in the shape or size of your breast.
• Dimpling or puckering in the skin of your breast.
• Your nipple being turned inward into your breast.
• Any form of discharge or fluid from the breast.
• Scaly, red or swollen skin on your breast or areola.
If you are experiencing any symptoms and may be unsure if you should be worried or not, a consultation via telemedicine can be a great first step. You can go over your concerns with your doctor and even send any photos if you are comfortable doing so. It is likely that after this initial conversation your doctor will recommend an office visit for you for a physical exam.
If you have no symptoms but your family has a history of breast cancer and you are concerned about the possible risks of developing the disease, telemedicine can also be a useful first step. You can discuss your options with a physician and receive his/her guidance on the next steps and possible tests to determine if you are at a higher risk of contracting the disease in the future.
Telemedicine for treatment and follow-up for breast cancer patients
If you have already been diagnosed with breast cancer or you have abnormal mammogram results, telemedicine may also serve you in your treatment plans. Once you have already been evaluated in person, your follow-up visits may be done via telemedicine services. These follow-up visits may include regular appointments with your oncologist, the review of any test results, as well as any check-ins done to go over questions or concerns about your treatment. Your oncologist will best help you to determine how often you may come into their physical office or when those appointments may be easily facilitated virtually.
Your oncology team may consist of various health-care providers and telemedicine will allow your entire team to meet in a more convenient way that keeps everyone in the loop. Additionally, if you decide that you want a second opinion regarding your results and treatment plans, telemedicine may also facilitate consultation with another oncologist.
Telemedicine can also be used to provide aftercare for breast cancer patients who have done surgery. If you have had an uncomplicated surgery and are not experiencing any issues with wound healing or infections, you may use these services to follow up with your oncologist. Be prepared to talk about your symptoms, if any, and to show your doctor photos of your surgical incisions so their healing can be asessed. If this is something you are not comfortable doing, an in-person visit would be the better option for you.
Among these benefits, telemedicine also provides a safe space for breast cancer patients to receive treatment. Many patients on cancer medications are immuno-compromised and taking them outside of a hospital environment, when they can, will be very helpful.
When not to use telemedicine for breast cancer screening and treatment
If you begin to experience any adverse side effects from your treatment or notice any new symptoms that may be concerning, it is best to be evaluated in person by your oncology team. If you are experiencing uncontrolled vomiting or diarrhoea, uncontrolled bleeding, change in vision, confusion or chest pain, it is recommended that you visit a physician in person immediately. Telemedicine is not an appropriate route to treat these symptoms, particularly for a breast cancer patient.
Ultimately, telemedicine can facilitate making various parts of the treatment and consultation aspect of breast cancer patients much easier. However, technology cannot ever fully replace physical examinations. If you are worried that you may be at risk for breast cancer, a physical exam or a mammogram are the best ways to be certain. If you do become diagnosed, you may suggest the benefits and your interest in using telemedicine services to help guide a treatment plan that includes this.
Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at email@example.com.