What can you do to safeguard yourself against Breast Cancer?

By Dr. Aditi Chaturvedi in Breast Cancer

Oct 11 , 2022 | 3 min read

Breast Cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and the most common cancer affecting women in India. Western data suggests that it affects 1 in 8 women, whereas, in India, the number varies between 1 in 22 women to 1 in 60 women in various areas.

It is well established as a disease with a high cure rate of>90% if detected early, in stages I and II. However, the problem is that most of our patients in India are still diagnosed at an advanced stage. This trend is gradually changing, especially in metropolitan cities, where awareness and routine checkups are becoming more common.

To curb this menace, the key step is to create awareness and empower people with correct information to lower the risk of developing this disease and help them detect any problem at the earliest stage

The first thing to understand is that each of us is at risk of developing breast cancer, irrespective of age or family history. Although everyone is at risk, there are certain simple measures that everyone should practice and teach people around them:

  1. Monthly Breast Self Exam: Every person above the age of 18 should develop a habit of examining their breasts systematically once a month just a few days after their periods, if menstruating, or on any day of the month if postmenopausal. A Breast Self Exam is quite easy to perform: you must first look at the breasts in the mirror to ensure there is no change in the breast, nipple or overlying skin.

    Secondly, feel the breasts: Use the flat of the opposite hand and cover the entire breast in a spiral manner; end the procedure by feeling your armpits and gently pressing the nipple. The key is to do this monthly so that you know what’s normal for your breasts, pick up any change early, and it barely takes a few minutes. A painless lump in the breast is the most common presentation of breast cancer.

    Other warning signs are dimpling in the skin, lump in the armpit, nipple retraction or scaling, bloody or watery nipple discharge etc.

  2. Diet: A balanced diet with carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the right proportion is key. Eating colourful fruits and vegetables, reducing your intake of processed and sugar-rich foods, and thus, keeping your weight in check is extremely important in reducing the risk of developing not only breast but a variety of other cancers. There is no need for any extreme diet: Moderation is the key.

  3. Exercise: Daily physical exercise for 30-45 minutes has also been shown to help protect us. The form of exercise can vary from walking, jogging, yoga, strength training or anything else: Take your pick but do not fall for lack of time as an excuse.

  4. Avoid prolonged hormonal exposure: Breast cancer is related to increased hormonal (oestrogen) exposure. Hence, caution must be exerted about the prolonged use of hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptive pills.

  5. Alcohol: People must limit their alcohol intake to nil or a bare minimum. Excessive alcohol intake and tobacco are related to various cancers, and there is a direct relationship between alcohol and breast cancer.

  6. Screening Mammogram above 40: Recent studies suggest that all average-risk women above 40 should be offered annual or biennial mammograms. A mammogram is a simple X-ray of the breasts, which helps us pick up cancer early before it is clinically evident. It is essential to know that mammograms can be performed without much discomfort, the cost isn’t prohibitive, and the radiation exposure is minimal.

  7. Know about your Risk: If there is a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or any other cancer, you must discuss with an expert the options of genetic counselling, testing, and the need for high-risk protocols. For example, women who are positive for mutations in BRCA1/2 genes must be offered screening tests from the age of 25, and there should be a detailed discussion about the role of risk-reducing medicines and surgery.

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