The month of October is marked worldwide as Breast Cancer Awareness month, to raise awareness about early detection and treatment of breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most prevalent or common form of cancers in Indian women. As per statistics, 1 in every 21 women in India will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. The rate of breast cancer in India though is still lower than in the west where the risk is 1 in 8 women. Globally, the mortality due to breast cancer has reduced. However in India, it still remains high.
It is said that for every 2 women diagnosed with breast cancer in India, one woman succumbs to it. This is predominantly because breast cancer is diagnosed late, especially in its advanced stages. Any woman may get breast cancer. The risk increases if your periods have started early or stopped very late. Women who smoke, eat high fat diet, drink alcohol are more at risk. Overweight women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer and many other cancers. Having had no children and late pregnancy also increase risk for breast cancer.
Breast cancers detected early have very high cure rates of greater than 95%. However in India, only 60 of 100 women with breast cancer will survive beyond 5 years. This is largely due delay in diagnosis. The key tool in early detection is self-breast awareness. Most women usually have noticed a change in the breast, however put it off due the challenges of work, office, and children.
It is not a disease of the old, the disturbing trend is, about 48% of breast cancer occurs in women younger than 50 years old in India. The next recurring misconception is that “nobody has cancer in my family, so how I can a have cancer”.
How can I detect cancer early?
Most often breast cancer presents as a painless lump/mass or thickening in the breast.
Look out for:
· A new lump or thickening in your breast or armpit
• A change in the size, shape or feel of your breast
• Skin changes in the breast such as puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin
• Fluid leaking from the nipple in a woman who is not pregnant or breast feeding
• Changes in the position of the nipple
Self-Breast awareness/Self Breast examination is an important tool for early detection. You should know what your breast looks and feels like. Every month, usually after your period or if periods have stopped, on a fixed day look and feel for any of the above changes in your breast.
Any change in the breast has be evaluated by a clinical examination, mammogram, and biopsy to rule out cancer. After 40 years of age, it is recommended to get an annual mammogram or at least once in 2 years. Mammograms may detect cancers very early, even before you can feel a lump.
The things you can do to help lower your breast cancer risk include:
Keep a healthy weight and exercise regularly.
Incorporate loads of fresh and colourful vegetables and fruit in your diet.
Do not drink alcohol, or limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
If you are taking hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills, ask your doctor about the risks.
Breastfeed your children, if possible, for more than 2 years cumulatively.
The easiest, least expensive way to reduce your risk for cancer is just by eating a healthy diet, a diet that is filled by plant based and the one that is filled with more fibre.
Be aware, bring on your brave face every day! Act now.
(Dr Poovamma CU is an MBBS, MS (General Surgery), Consultant Onco Plastic Breast Surgeon at Cytecare Cancer Hospital in Bangalore)