Breast cancer is not very uncommon and one may have come across some friend, relative or known person in the workplace affected by breast cancer. This is because breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and the impact is such that about 2,50,000 new cases are diagnosed every year and 40,000 deaths were due to cancer in women. These are some of the figures from the American Cancer Society. Every year, the month of October is celebrated as the breast cancer awareness month in order to spread awareness and provide an opportunity for education of the public and to stress the importance of screening amongst all women as well as men.
Specialist Obstetrics and Gynecology
Silver lining to the cloud!
With improving healthcare facilities and screening modalities, it is becoming more and more easier to detect this deadly disease at an early stage, thereby achieving a better outcome which includes survival, better life expectancy and early detection, more so, especially in identifying women who are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer so that it is picked up much before it spreads and causes any serious damage. One needs to highlight the early signs and symptoms of probable breast cancer.
What are the early warning signs?
Women should not overlook and ignore the symptoms like
Are there any high risk groups?
Much before these changes appear, women who are at an increased risk like:
- The ones who have a family history of some kind of a cancer or
- Women who have had a history of radiations or
- Those who are heavily into smoking or alcohol consumption or
- an unhealthy lifestyle or
- are overweight
need more rigorous screening programs like undergoing mammograms. Women more than 40 years of age should undergo routine mammograms which can pick up a lot of these lesions much before they are palpable and can be subjected to further investigation.
Can mammograms detect all suspicious lesions?
Sometimes the mammogram may not reveal all the information because of
- Overweight issues or maybe
- Because of dense breast or
- If there are previous scars/fibrosis,
then ultrasound breast can help in arriving at a diagnosis and when it is strongly suspected, a biopsy provide a confirmatory evidence of having a breast cancer.
What is the next step after diagnosing breast cancer?
Once the diagnosis of breast cancer is established, a plan is made based on the stage and spread. If it is detected in the early stages where it is just a regional growth and not spread, a lumpectomy alone or the removal of the lump alone can give rise to a 5-year survival rate of more than 90%. The overall rate for all stages, the survival rate is more than 70% which is very promising when compared with other forms of cancer which are much more aggressive. Of course, there are different types of cancers where some may be more aggressive than the others, but the good thing is that breast cancers can be detected much earlier if one is aware and conscious about screening.
Can screening start at home?
It is paramount that each women learns how to do a breast self examination. Any woman can do it in the comfort of her home in her privacy without the need for any advanced gadgets.
Stand before a mirror, with shoulders straight, and arms on your hips. Look in the mirror at your breasts to see if any of the following is present:
- visible lumps or dimpling of the skin
- Unusual shape, size, or color
- swelling, redness, rash, or soreness
- the nipple has changed position or became pushed inward instead of protruding
Then, raise your arms, and look for the same changes. Use this opportunity to check for any watery, milky, or yellow fluid coming out from one or both nipples.
Are there any genetic tests available?
Some breast cancers are genetically linked and there are specific genes like BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 which are known to increase the risk of having breast cancer in the lifetime and if the genetic detection is done, the appropriate measures can be done to improve the life expectancy.
Is Breast Cancer preventable?
Some of the things that can be modifiable and are well within our hands to prevent the onset and progress of breast cancer are:
- Avoid smoking and drinking because heavy smoking and heavy drinking are associated with some malignant changes in the breast.
- Keeping oneself fit and healthy goes a long way in preventing risk factors which are associated with obesity, more so the increased risk of diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease.
- Women who are overweight tend to have more incidences of cancers, not only breast cancer but other cancers like endometrial cancer and colonic cancers.
- High blood insulin levels are known to be associated with cancers and
- women who are bleeding for longer durations, that means early menarche and late menopause also have an extended exposure to hormones and they can visit the doctors for cancer reducing strategies.
- Physical activity, exercises and maintaining the body mass index will go a long way in helping women in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Awareness is the key and goes a long way in reaching out to the healthcare provider on a timely manner, and we can all together achieve success and win this deadly disease.
To conclude, best care for the breast is awareness and timely screenings to protect and preserve the health!