Early Detection in Breast cancer

Breast cancer awareness for early detection and risk reduction

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women all over India. One of every three or four cancer diagnosed women is a breast cancer patient. Breast cancer patients in India have a shorter survival as compared to patients from the western hemisphere. This is not because of lack of advanced healthcare systems, but because of lack of awareness. So, patients visit a hospital at an advanced stage as compared to developed nations where screening programs tend to detect this cancer at an early stage.

Breast cancer screening’ does not ring a bell for a majority of Indians. For a cancer that is so common globally, there is still a frightening lack of awareness about this disease even in educated women from India. Healthcare is low on priority and even in major cities, prevention and screening programs hold no place in healthcare delivery system.

What is screening?

Screening means checking your body for cancer before you have symptoms. This simply means that you you keep looking for early warning signs of a cancer, either by means of self examination or by investigations. It helps you to pick up cancer at an early stage. Screening is an ‘alien’ word for most people in India. That is the reason why most cancers are detected at a late stage as compared to the developed countries where the screening programs are in place, which in turn leads to better survival of cancer patients.

Why is survival of breast cancer patients poor in India?

In India, most women are unaware of breast cancer screening. They seek medical help only after they develop major signs or symptoms of the cancer. Due to initiation of treatment in late stages of cancer, the survival is shorter with poor quality of life. So the mantra is ‘early detection’.

What are the means of breast cancer screening?

Mammogram, is an X-ray of the breast. At present it is the best way to find breast cancer early, before it is big enough to cause any significant clinical findings. It is safe, cost effective, and has a high predictive value. Clinical breast examination, is when you get your breasts examined clinically by a doctor or a trained nurse, who feels for any lumps in your breast, or other changes.Self breast examination, is when you check your own breast for lumps or other changes in your breasts or under your armpits. This is the easiest method, and can be done as frequently as you want. As you start doing it regularly, you can even notice subtle changes in your breasts over time. However, this method is not totally reliable, and you should be coupled with other methods like Mammogram.

When should you get a Mammogram, and how frequently?

Most women who are 50 to 74 years old should have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, or think you may have a higher risk of breast cancer, ask your doctor when to have a screening mammogram.

What increases your risk of getting a breast cancer?

Risk factors for breast can be broadly categorized into reproductive factors vs others.

Reproductive risk factors include:

  •  Never given birth, or being older at your first child birth.
  •  Being younger at time of your first menstruation.
  •  Having menopause at later age.
  •  Use of hormone replacement therapy for long time.

Other risk factors:

  •  Getting older.
  •  A personal history of breast cancer, dense breasts, or some other breast problems.
  •  A family history of breast cancer (parent, sibling, or child).
  •  Changes in your breast cancer-related genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2).
  •  Getting radiation therapy to the breast or chest, for other cancers.
  •  Being overweight, especially after menopause.

What are the warning signs of breast cancer?

You might be having breast cancer if you notice any of these:

  •  A lump in the breast.
  •  Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
  •  Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  •  Redness or flaky skin on the breast.
  •  Retraction of the nipple or pain in the
  •  Fluid other than breast milk from the nipple, especially blood.
  •  Change in the size or the shape of the breast.

Do oral contraceptives affect breast cancer risk?

Studies for breast cancer have found that women who were current or recent users of birth control pills had a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who had never used the pill. The risk was highest for women who started using oral contraceptives as teenagers. But, the risk of developing breast cancer returned to the same level as that of women who never used oral contraceptives, ten years after discontinuing their use.

Disclaimer- This article is meant for only general public awareness and education. The text can not substitute expert medical advice. Please consult your doctor if you experience these symptoms.

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