Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in Indian women, having beaten cervical cancer,(25.8/100,000women are affected), there’s still good news- it’s treatable with early detection and diagnosis. Dr Shelly Singh, Senior Consultant, Gynaecology at Momspresso, says that User-Generated Content Sharing Treatment options are also not as ominous or tough as they used to be. So let’s get to know 5 things you probably did not know about breast cancer. 

Very Few Cases Are Genetic

Contrary to popular belief, only about 5-10% cases are genetic. Most cases do not run in families and there are other reasons for the same. Inheriting the faulty BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes are the genetic reason for breast cancer. These also can be inherited from the father’s side of the family. If your mother, sibling, aunt or child has breast cancer, your chances increase by about 2 times. More than 2 close relatives with breast cancer increase your risk 3 times. 

Age plays an important role. Women older than 50 are more prone to get breast cancer but there is a slight difference in age trends in India. Younger women are also being diagnosed with this malady.

In fact, being a woman and getting older are the reasons for breast cancer. Men are also known to get breast cancer but the rates are much lower than those in women. Men also have breast tissue; what’s important is that cancer in men is diagnosed in late stages. And late diagnosis portends lesser survival rates. 

Breast Cancer Is Preventable

mammogram

It’s important to know and feel what your breasts look like. Self-examination of breasts by looking at them in front of the mirror and systematically examining them by feeling them are important. 

If there’s any change in the shape or size of your breasts, any puckered skin over them which has an orange peel appearance, redness, nipple discharge, and lump in the breast or armpits or around the collar bone please consult your doctor. Generally, painful breast lumps are not malignant except in late stages but it’s important to get them ruled out for cancer. 

Mammograms are specialised X rays of breast tissues which are recommended for all women after the age of 40 years. If a close relative was diagnosed at say an age of 45 years, it is recommended that you start with screening 10 years before i.e at 35 years of age. The mammogram machines may look a bit daunting and there’s a minimal discomfort as your breast tissues are compressed during the test but these save lives. A mammogram may show changes years before a lump appears in the breast; so it’s an important tool for screening. Sometimes breast sonograms are also combined with mammograms or recommended in younger women or those with dense breasts to make a correct diagnosis. 

Early detection, better treatment options, more 5 year survival rates; that’s how it goes. Gene studies are available in many labs now. These study the BRCA genes- faulty genes are responsible for some breast cancers that run in families. 

Awareness: the key to any successful screening programme. Be aware that these modalities are available in most good hospitals and at diagnostic imaging centres of repute.

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Most Breast Lumps Are Benign

lumps

I have often come across women who do not visit a doctor out of fear once they detect a breast lump, Why? Because they fear cancer, painful chemotherapy, surgery and the sequelae that follow. Please remember that most breast lumps are benign. Some are only cysts, fibroadenomas, fibrosis etc. so do not hesitate in visiting your doctor. It’s good to get cancer ruled out and rest easy. 

You Can Beat Most Breast Cancers

Even if you are diagnosed with breast cancer, there is no need to panic at all. Most people beat breast cancer depending on the type of breast cancer and stage of disease. The 5 year survival rates are getting better as are the treatment options. The overall 5-year survival rates are 89.4% worldwide, around 66.1% in India( detection in late stages in Indian women being the reason why we lag behind the world in terms of survival) and 98.6% for localised disease in early stages. Not everybody requires a mastectomy; in fact even a lumpectomy can be done in early stages depending on the type of breast cancer. Some women with a very strong family history also get a preventive mastectomy done- Angelina Jolie being a prime example.

Chemotherapy is also not required for all types of breast cancer. Chemotherapy drugs also are getting better with fewer and less difficult side effects than their predecessors. 

You Can Still Do Things To Prevent Breast Cancer And Reduce Its Risk 

alcohol

  • Limit or stop alcohol: one drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer slightly but 2-5 drinks increase the risks by one and a half times. Given the numerous harmful effects of alcohol, it’s a good idea to stop or to limit it maybe to bare minimum. 
  • Give up smoking.
  • Be physically active. It is known that being physically active and exercising with moderate or high intensity 30-45 minutes 4-5 times a week is beneficial and makes an impact on reducing the risk of disease. Obesity causes hormonal changes in the body and fighting the flab also fights numerous cancers- breast cancer being one of them.
  • Don’t delay childbirth for very long. With the changing social trends, we’ve all become increasingly busy with work and career. Some studies cite delayed childbirth and minimal or no breastfeeding as one of the reasons for increased risk of breast cancer. Though it is obviously your decision and mental preparedness that go in planning a family but don’t wait too long to do so. 

breastfeeding

  • Breastfeed for as long as possible. I need not elaborate on the other benefits of breastfeeding too- that’s for another day, but breastfeeding definitely reduces risks of breast cancer as well. 
  • Eat healthily. Go for greens, food rich in anti-oxidants, grains, broccoli, seeds. The benefits are multiple here again. 
  • Last but not the least, being aware and educated about breast cancer, getting the screening done, self-examination, visiting your doctor, preventive breast examination by your health care provider at least once a year- these are some of the keys to early detection and treatment. 
  • And as oft-repeated it is early detection and treatment which saves lives - so let’s beat breast cancer together. There is hope and hope keeps everything alive...
  • Cheers to being a woman- healthy and alive!