'Doctors told me blood in my breast milk wasn't cancer. It was'

Abu Dhabi mother-of-three who insisted on scan and survived urges women to get check at all ages

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 07 November 2019. Breast cancer survivor, Maysa Abu Al Laban, speaks of her journey. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Shereena Al Nuwais. Section: Weekend.
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A mother who survived breast cancer after insisting on a scan doctors said she did not need urged women of all ages to get checked.

Maysa Abu Laban was told blood in her breast milk was not concerning and that, at the age of 37, she was at low risk of the disease.

But the Jordanian mother-of-three insisted on a full mammogram at a government-run hospital.

Several doctors repeatedly told me that I was fine. I didn't settle for the initial diagnosis or give up trying to find out what was wrong

Doctors found a 5cm tumour in her right breast growing "aggressively" fast.

"If not for me insisting on a mammogram I would have reached the late stages of cancer [before it was spotted]," she told The National.

She argued that regular preventative scans should be performed, regardless of age and insurance coverage, and urged medics not to dismiss unexplained symptoms.

She first noticed blood coming from her right breast while breastfeeding her third child.

After several tests, doctors assured her that it was most probably an infection and she did not need a mammogram.

“I knew something was wrong when the blood came back a few months later after I stopped breastfeeding and I suspected it was breast cancer," said Ms Al Laban.

She went to the government-run Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, a referral centre for breast cancer that sees up to 400 cases every year.

“The mammogram showed a 5cm tumour in my right breast and the doctor immediately scheduled me for surgery," she said.

"The tumour, he said, was an aggressively growing one and if not for me insisting on a mammogram then I would have reached the late stages of cancer.”

In May 2016, she had a double mastectomy to remove both breasts. She was still able to attend her daughter’s end of year school party the following week.

“To me this is like removing my appendix or any surgery," said Ms Abu Laban, now 41.

"I am grateful that I caught it early and was in shock at first but I have moved on with my life.

"I just would like all women to get screened if they have unusual symptoms. Several doctors had repeatedly told me that I was fine.

"I didn’t settle for the initial diagnosis or give up trying to find out what was wrong."

Speaking at the Emirates Oncology Conference in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Dr Mouza Al Ameri, chief of oncology at Tawam Hospital, said women with unusual symptoms must be screened regardless of their age.

“Bleeding from the nipples like Ms Abu Laban’s case is a clear indication of breast cancer," she said.

Mammograms are not generally recommended for women under 40 years of age because breast tissue tends to be dense, making mammograms less effective.

"We do not recommend screening for patients below 40 but there are exceptions and it is important to see a specialist," she said