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October is breast cancer awareness month and the pink ribbon is aflutter. It signifies hope and is a powerful symbol of the fight against cancer. Let’s talk of 5 things you didn’t know about breast cancer. 1. 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 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 . 2. BREAST CANCER IS PREVENTABLE -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, 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.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. 3.MOST BREAST LUMPS ARE BENIGN Please remember- 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. 4. 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. Chemotherapy is also not required for all types of breast cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are also getting better with fewer and less difficult side effects than their predecessors. 5. YOU CAN STILL DO THINGS TO PREVENT BREAST CANCER AND REDUCE IT’S RISK -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. - 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 child birth for very long. Some studies also cite minimal or no breast feeding as one of the reasons for increased risk of breast cancer. -Breast feed for as long as possible. - Eat healthy - 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 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 often 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, aware and alive!
MBBS, MS (Obstetrics and Gynecology) Senior Consultant - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital and BirthRight, Malviya Nagar, Delhi