Last year, 5 lakh women lost their lives to breast cancer the world over. Another 5 lakh may do so this year. One of the main reasons is lack of knowledge and awareness about breast cancer. According to a global survey by Avon, many women still don't know enough about the early symptoms and risks of the disease.
Early diagnosis is key in treating breast cancer and ensuring its success. "The magnitude of the disease is very huge, yet it is a very treatable condition. Breast cancer, when detected early and treated appropriately, can be almost completely cured. Detecting it early is vital. It is very important for women to be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer," said Dr Jayanthi S Thumsi, senior consultant-breast oncology, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bengaluru.
According to Dr Reetu Jain, Medical Oncologist, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, "early diagnosis is effective in all terms — fi nancially, economically and the treatment needed for survival (of the patient). If a lady is diagnosed with breast cancer at stage 1 or say stage 2, the chances of curing is 95-96%. If there is an early breast cancer, the woman may not need radiotherapy or chemotherapy; only operating and removing the cancer will be needed. Patients can keep away extensive treatments."
Awareness is important for detecting the problem early. "If there is a strong family history of breast cancer then we (doctors) recommend self-breast examination from the age of 30. Patients with family history of breast cancer can themselves start self-breast examination which should be conducted every month; another span of examination is a yearly-based physical examination, where the patient should consult a physician. Women with a family history of breast cancer after the age of 35-40 should opt for screening mammography every year. For people who don't have any family history of breast cancer, doctors recommend self-breast examination from the age of 35-40 years and screening mammography at the age of 40 years," Jain said.
"If one fi nds any of the symptoms in their breast, there is no need to panic as 80% of the times it could be non-cancerous. But because we should not miss the other 20% when it could be cancerous, it's very important to go to a doctor and get yourselves thoroughly examined and investigated and not to neglect the signs and symptoms," said Thumsi. "Time is the most important factor in breast cancer. Cancer has an inherent property to grow and spread very fast. Hence, if we intend to beat the cancer, negligence will not help. Do not hesitate to share about your problems with others and do not delay in seeking medical help" she added.
Breast cancer need not be detected in the breast first. "Breast cancer can spread and form a lump in lymph modes under the arms or around the collar bone. This could cause a swelling even before the original tumour in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt," said Jain "Breast cancer can occur in men too. 1:100 is the ratio between men and women developing this disease. Breast cancer in men is very easy to diagnose. The signs and symptoms in men are similar to that in women, but the disease could spread to the other organs very quickly in men compared to women," said Thumsi. "Most breast lumps in men are caused by gynaecomastia (a harmless enlargement of the breast tissue)," Jain added.
Regarding the genetic factor, both men and women are at equal risk of developing the disease. "Suppose the mother is the carrier and has the gene present in her. If she has two daughters and two sons and if all four children have the gene present in them, then irrespective of the gender, all four have the same amount of risk to develop breast cancer. Gender does not the matter if the gene is present. Breast cancer can be passed on from mother to son or daughter," explained Jain.
Obese women are more prone towards breast cancer and people who take hormone therapy for PCODs are also at a high risk of developing the disease. Lifestyle modification should be taken into consideration in general and especially by women who have PCOD and are undergoing treatment.
Breast cancer is basically a hormone-dependent cancer; patients who have prolonged exposure to hormones (such as those going through IVF treatment), women who have had early periods and those who have had late onset of menopause can be prone to breast cancer. Patients who have never breast-fed their children are part of the high-risk group.