Awareness of Breast Cancer can save lives, because many cases are detected too late to be cured. Breast Cancer being the most common cancer in women, its increased awareness can help the entire society.
What is breast cancer?
As the name suggests, Breast Cancer begins as a form of tumour in the breast. Later it can spread in the surrounding area or travel to other parts of the body. Breast cancer mostly affects women, however, can rarely affect men too.
Did you know
One in 28 Indian women is likely to have breast cancer in their lifetime.
One woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 4 minutes.
One woman dies of breast cancer every 13 minutes.
Who gets breast cancer?
Certain genetic, environmental, and personal factors may contribute to the development of breast cancer.
An overweight woman with strong family history, who has had a long menstrual history [early periods (before 12 years) /late menopause (after 55 years)], & had childbirth after 30 years of age is at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
There are some factors which cannot be changed, like:
- Increasing age
- Family history of cancer
- Genetic mutations
- Dense breast tissue
- History of cancer
- Exposure to radiation
While few factors can be very much controlled, like
- Smoking and alcohol consumption
- Control weight
- Choosing not to breastfeed or less breastfeeding
- Birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy
Types of breast cancer
Breast cancer can be
- Invasive (invades surrounding tissue or spreads farther)
- Non-invasive or carcinoma-in-situ (confined to ducts/lobules)
Warning signs of breast cancer
A painless lump in or near the breast that feels different from the rest of breast tissue is the most common symptom. The other symptoms maybe:
- Change in the feel of the breast, shape, contour, or size (affected breast becoming larger)
- Change in skin texture (thickening, scaly, inflamed, redness, ulceration, puckering, or dimpling)
- Change in the look/position of the nipple
- Inverted, retracted, or deviated
- Rash on/around the nipple
- Discharge from the nipple (blood-stained/clear fluid)
- Constant pain in the breast or underarm
Signs and symptoms
Breast cancer most commonly presents as a painless lump or thickening in the breast. It is important that women finding an abnormal lump in the breast consult a health practitioner without a delay of more than 1-2 months even when there is no pain associated with it. Seeking medical attention at the first sign of a potential symptom allows for more successful treatment.
Generally, symptoms of breast cancer include:
- a breast lump or thickening;
- alteration in size, shape or appearance of a breast;
- dimpling, redness, pitting or other alteration in the skin;
- change in nipple appearance or alteration in the skin surrounding the nipple (areola); and/or
- abnormal nipple discharge.
There are many reasons for lumps to develop in the breast, most of which are not cancer. As many as 90% of breast masses are not cancerous.
Management of Breast cancer
Diagnosis involves symptomatic evaluation, clinical examination followed by Imaging tests (Mammography, Breast Ultrasound scan) and biopsy for microscopic analysis. The treatment includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormonal therapy for early stages. Palliative treatment is given in the advanced disease to prolong survival & improve quality of life.
5 Tips for Breast Cancer Prevention
- Early detection through screening is the cornerstone of protection against breast cancer. It includes self-examination (be aware of changes in the contours or normal feel of your breasts), clinical examination by the doctor to detect lump/nodes, and mammography (get a baseline scan at 35 years of age and then annually after 40)
- Eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight and keep stress at bay
- Breastfeed for at least 1 year (breastfeeding reduces the risk of cancer)
- Avoid smoking & excessive alcohol consumption
Lifestyle changes, early detection through screening, and advanced treatment have the immense potential to prevent cancer, improve outcomes and survival rates.
Breast Cancer awareness in India
Indian women need to be aware of both modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for breast cancer to adopt appropriate practices for prevention. There is an urgent call for more effective nation- and state-wide cancer literacy programmes, as well as engagements with community-level organisations and the health system. With wide variations in the state-level burden, a coordinated, intensive health promotion intervention programme on risk factors, prevention, screening and management for breast cancer is prudent.
Training on the latest evidence regarding breast cancer risk factors should be offered to healthcare providers and community workers to raise their cancer literacy so they can then transmit this knowledge to other sections of the society. Continuing medical education programmes with enhanced emphasis on breast cancer in the curricula of nursing at institutional level and other healthcare training institutions should be a priority for women’s health in the country.