Breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second most fatal health issue after cardiovascular disease. With at least one in 22 women in India and over 1.46 million cases worldwide, we see a surge in breast cancer cases. One woman in every four minutes is diagnosed with breast cancer in India.  And it’s not just women who are affected by this disease, we see cases in which men have reported breast cancer too. We also see that almost five to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are known to be hereditary, caused by abnormal genes passed from parents to the child.

Breast Cancer Pink
Graphic by Sayali Ranade

One of the reasons for it to increase so drastically is the bad lifestyle that we’ve adopted from the West and we can prevent it from happening if we bring some change in our lifestyle, if we make our lifestyle healthy and if we become fit. Breast cancer is on the rise in India, with various health experts attributing it to lifestyle changes, changing reproductive preferences, and hormonal imbalances in the body.

As per an expert, one in 22 females in urban India is likely to develop the disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Indian females, accounting for 14 percent of all cancers.  One out of two women diagnosed with breast cancer die within the next five years which attributes to 50% mortality rates.

One of the biggest reasons for the high mortality rates is a late diagnosis which is primarily due to lack of awareness and the absence of proper breast cancer screening programs, diagnosis at an advanced stage, and unavailability of appropriate medical facilities. The majority of breast cancers are diagnosed at a relatively advanced stage.

Many patients in the urban areas are diagnosed at stage two when the lesions become palpable lumps, but in most cases from rural areas, these lesions are diagnosed only after they transform into metastatic tumors.

So, should we be afraid then? No! not at all! We just need to be alert and aware. It took Western countries like the USA two to three decades when the mortality rate actually started to decline. The US started spreading awareness back in the 1980s and the result was shown nearly around the 2000s. But it’s not too late for us to spread awareness in our country and let’s start now because it’s still better than never, right?

So, this breast cancer awareness month, we at ManipalBlog attempt to do our bit in spreading awareness.

Causes of Breast Cancer

According to Dr (Col) R. Ranga Rao, Chairman of Paras Cancer Centre at Paras Hospital, Gurugram: “Breast cancer is increasing by 10 percent every year and the reason behind is changing reproductive preferences and hormonal imbalances in the body. So, late children, no children, few children, and late marriages are the few causes of it.”

“Apart from hormonal factors, lifestyle issues like overweight, excessive consumption of calories, low exercise, less consumption of fruits and vegetables, and less breastfeeding. Moreover, in India, women have bigger breast lumps as compared to western countries. In India, the early onset of breast cancer has been seen with an average age of 40-42 years.”

Risk factors such as inherited changes in certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), family history, etc are beyond our control. If you have a family history of breast cancer get a cancer tumor marker done regularly or as advised by your doctor. Currently, there is a lack of sufficient knowledge as to its causes, and therefore, early detection of the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control.

Early detection of breast cancer

We all know for a fact that the numbers of breast cancer are rising fast and there is no second doubt about that. And if breast cancer has to happen, it will happen – we can do nothing about it which will change it completely, except the fact that we change our lifestyle (as we’ve mentioned earlier). But what we can very much change it to detect it at an early stage!

We cannot prevent cancer from happening but we can catch it early and all that is required is ‘awareness’. One needs to be aware of the symptoms, and keep checking themselves regularly. The early detection of breast cancer means higher are the cure rates (and survival) whereas we’ve seen that advanced breast cancer has poor survival rates.

Check-Ups and Screening

Numerous studies have shown that regular screening of women with no symptoms of breast cancer has lowered the number of women who die from the disease. The purpose of breast screening is to find cancer at its earliest when the treatment is known to show the best results. Ideally, you should consult a doctor as soon as you see any change in your breast. This can range from a lump, an unusual pain that does not go away, or any type of discharge.

Dr. Kaushal Yadav, Surgical Oncologist at Columbia Asia Hospital, Palam Vihar in Gurugram, explained how breast self-examination (BSE) can be done to identify any sign of potential breast cancer.

“Stand in front of a mirror with hands on the hips. Check breasts for any skin changes, lumps, or changes in the black area around the nipples. Raise one arm and try to feel for lumps around breasts — move from armpit area towards the breast until the gap on both sides. If there is a lump on the breast or in the armpit that is growing bigger and feels hard; visible skin changes over and near the lump; blood discharge from the nipple or the nipple seems pulled inwards, visit a doctor without delay,” he advised.

Moving Ahead

A lot of advancements have happened in treatment strategies for breast cancer, with surgery having decreased in extent leading to lesser mutilation with better cosmetic outcomes. Chemotherapy and targeted therapies have evolved for better patient tolerance.

If detected on time, it is 100 percent curable. We must motivate all women in our family into doing self-breast examinations. It’s a very simple thing to do and takes a few minutes. If you detect any lump in your breast you should immediately bring it to your doctor’s attention.

While the treatment of breast cancer is covered under schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, with better awareness and timely treatment, we can prevent some of 87,000 lives lost every year due to breast cancer in our country.

Diya ManikpuriAbout the Author: Diya Manikpuri is a student at the Manipal Institute of Communication, Manipal.

Mending gaps and building bridges,
I have come a long way.
With the mast now up high,
I am ready to sail far, far away…

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