Breast cancer is the most prevalent and commonly diagnosed cancer in women throughout the world and it is also one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in young women aged 20 to 40. Irrespective of whether the cause of breast cancer is known or unknown – it is still possible to prevent it. Early detection is the key to a successful treatment of breast cancer. Thus, if you know the following information about breast cancer, you can effectively deal with it.
Breast Cancer Facts and Figures in India
Breast cancer accounts for 25 – 35 percent of all cancers in India. Every year about 1, 25, 000 new breast cancer cases are reported in India. The worrying trend in India is the age shift of breast cancer incidence, which is more towards younger age group with about 25 percent of new cases are now occurring in women between age 25 – 40 years.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
While performing Breast Self Examination, you should look for the following signs:
- A breast lump or thickening of breast
- Dimpling of the breast skin
- Change in the color or texture of the breast skin
- Change in the appearance of nipple (inverted nipple)
- Fluid or bloody discharge from the nipple
- Redness or pitting of breast
- Change in the size or shape of a breast
Diagnosis modalities and Awareness
Who should undergo breast screening and how often?
Screening is a systematic evaluation of ‘normal’ individuals to see if there is any underlying cancer even if they don’t have any symptoms. It helps detect breast cancer early when it is most treatable [when it is small so that it can be removed by (lumpectomy – removal of the lump) rather than needing a mastectomy (removal of the whole breast)]. Hence, breast conservation surgery is possible, which in turn helps save life.
Continental Cancer Centre recommends annual breast cancer screening to reduce breast cancer risk because about 50 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed in the third or fourth stages due to which treatment and survival becomes difficult. Many women do not experience symptoms in the early stages of breast cancer; therefore, regular cancer screening is important.
For some women with a high risk (strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer) screening will start early and may involve genetic testing and MRI.
In India approximately 7 out of 10 women whose breast cancer is diagnosed by screening have breast conservation therapy, compared with 45% of women diagnosed outside the screening programme.
Mammography is often advised by a clinician after a woman crosses 40 years of age. If mammography is normal, screening continues every year. There is a strong debate going on worldwide to decrease the age of onset of screening to 35 years. This should be augmented with monthly BSE and annual CBE.
What is Breast Self Examination and why it is needed?
Breast Self Examination includes systematic palpation of the breast by a woman herself to assess for any abnormality. After age 20, a woman must regularly do a BSE, which must be evaluated by a clinical Breast Examination (CBE). As far as breast cancer is concerned early and timely detection are very crucial, which can be known through self examination and then through clinical examination or screening process during regular health checkups. Therefore, talk to your doctor about the breast self-exams and get trained in the correct method. If you learn the self-examination process, you will distinguish what is normal and abnormal by feeling your breast. If you find any significant change in the shape, contour and feel of your breast, you can see your doctor. However, early detection is not prevention, but ensures successful treatment outcomes and improves survival rates. Doing regular self examinations according to the guidelines given by the doctor will serve the purpose of early detection.
Therefore, for any woman, to deal effectively with breast cancer, proper understanding of the causes, risk factors, symptoms and lifestyle related issues are very important. Better understanding, self-awareness and timely medical intervention are the best possible ways in which you can arrest breast cancer in the early stages.