October is observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month across the globe. Breast cancer, one of the most prevalent forms of cancer, is characterised by uncontrolled growth of cells, which results in formation of lumps within the breast. It is one of the treatable forms of cancer. But it can be a life-threatening disease, if not detected early, as it can spread to other parts of the body. Read on to learn more about the disease and how you can prevent it from affecting you and your loved ones.
Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer. It is characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells, which results in formation of lumps within the breast. It is one of the treatable forms of cancers. If not detected early, it can be a life threatening disease as it can also spread to other parts of the body.
While there are some risk factors that you can’t change such as your age and genes, a rise in the number of breast cancer cases also points towards some lifestyle related factors. “There are a number of reasons, starting from late marriages to birthing children late. Also, not breastfeeding one’s newborn. In some cases, it’s also attributed to hormonal replacement therapy,” says Dr Shelly Singh, a senior gynaecologist at Delhi’s Rosewalk Hospital.
Breast cancer is caused when the DNA in breast cells mutate or change, disabling specific functions that control cell growth and division. In many cases, these mutated cells die or are attacked by the immune system. But some cells escape the immune system and grow unchecked, forming a tumour in the breast.
“Lack of exercise, obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking greatly adds to the rise in the number of cases,” opines Dr Deepak Kr Jain, who with wife Dr Shraddha Jain through Umeed NGO has established C4U (Comprehensive Cancer Care & cure) Cancer Centre at Vaishali , Ghaziabad that provides free OPD consultation, low cost diagnostic facilities and rehabilitation services by a team of highly qualified oncologists.
“We provide chemotherapy treatment to all patients at around 70-80% cheaper than any private hospital. We don’t want an economically weaker section of the population to die standing in government hospital queues,” Jain adds.
Excess body fat increases the estrogen levels in a woman’s body and hence increases the risk of getting breast cancer. “Estrogen makes hormone receptor positive that in turn helps breast cancers to develop and grow. Even increased insulin levels in obese women have been linked to breast cancer . Moreover, increased plasma cholesterol in obese women leads to accelerated tumor formation. Obesity also leads to chronic low-level inflammation – a process by which the body’s immune function malfunctions and causes DNA damage and leads to breast cancer,” elaborates By Dr Neha Khandelwal, senior gynaecologist, Madhukar Rainbow Hospital.
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. Dr Jain points out the warning signs, “The usual first sign is a painless lump/mass in the breast. Also, changes in the size or shape of a breast. A dimpling or thickening of some of the skin on a part of a breast is a sign too.”
A swelling or lump in an armpit is also experienced by people who have battled the dreaded disease. “Inverted nipple and scaling of the breast, it starts to get an appearance like an orange peel. Also, a nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood are other symptoms,” says Dr Singh.
Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer
“Every lump is not cancer. Get yourself seen by oncologist for correct opinion,” says Dr Jain.
Myth: Breast Cancer is contagious
“None of the cancer is contagious, it does not spread by touching , eating food or sharing things” says Dr Jain.
Myth: Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer
“Some people believe it is because perspirants, that hasn’t been proved,” says Dr Singh.
Prevention is better than cure
Being overweight can increase the risk of many different cancers, including breast cancer, especially after menopause. “Eating healthy and eating mindfully helps in controlling weight and reducing the risk in turn. Obesity is an important but completely preventable cause of not only breast cancer, but a variety of other diseases,” says Dr Khandelwal. A healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and keep alcohol at moderate levels or lower (a drink a day or under)
Avoid too much alcohol
While moderate drinking can be good for the heart in older adults, even low levels of intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. If you don’t drink, don’t feel you need to start. If you drink moderately, there’s likely no reason to stop. But, if you drink more, you should cut down or quit.
For most women, regular mammograms can begin at age 40, but specific recommendations vary by age and risk. “Self-examination is required for all girls in the age group of 25-39 years. Preventive mammograms should be encouraged in women in the age group of 40- 55 years once in every 2 years,” Dr Singh.
Breastfeed, if possible
Breastfeeding for a total of one year or more (combined for all children) lowers the risk of breast cancer. It also has great health benefits for the child.
Smokers and non-smokers alike know how unhealthy smoking is. On top of lowering quality of life and increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and at least 15 cancers – including breast cancer – it also causes smelly breath, bad teeth, and wrinkles. Now that’s motivation to stay smoke-free or work to get smoke-free.