Know the early signs, diagnosis, treatment options and steps to prevent breast cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Detecting breast cancer early can help save the patient’s life. Read here to learn more about this type of cancer.

Breast cancer awareness month: it’s important to be aware of changes in your breasts

October is considered Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Some factors that increase the risk of breast cancer include age, obesity, family history of breast cancer, certain hereditary genes, early menarche, late menopause, first child after age 30, never having been pregnant, alcohol consumption and exposure to radiation therapy. It is important to be aware of the changes in your breasts and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. The information provided below will help you spot the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer and the way forward:

1) The first signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A breast or breast thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
  • Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
  • Nipple turned inward
  • Skin of the nipple or breast that is red, dry, scaly, or thickened
  • Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk, including blood
  • Redness or stinging of the skin on your chest, like the skin of an orange

2) Early detection and screening includes:

  • Self-examination of the breasts to be performed monthly by the woman, the best time being right after the end of her period to note any irregularities, any lump, etc.
  • Clinical breast examination performed annually by a doctor who studies the person’s history and performs a bodily assessment including a breast exam in order to detect any suspicious abnormalities.
  • Annual mammogram for women aged 40 and over.

3) Behavioral choices that can reduce the risk of breast cancer:

Healthy weight : People who are obese, compared to those at a healthy weight, are at increased risk of many serious diseases, including breast cancer. Postmenopausal women who are obese have a 20-40% increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to women of normal weight.

Regular physical activity: Regular physical activity is important for good health and for losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. It also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and several forms of cancer. To maintain a healthy weight, it is essential to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mixture of the two each week.

Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer in the mother. One reason may be that when a woman breastfeeds, she experiences hormonal changes that can delay the return of her period. This reduces her lifetime exposure to hormones such as estrogen, which are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Every 12 months a woman breastfeeds, her risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3% (Ref: Lancet. 2002 Jul 20; 360 (9328): 187-95. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer Study).

Avoid alcohol consumption: All types of alcoholic beverages are linked to cancer. The more you drink, the higher the risk of cancer. When alcohol is consumed, it is broken down in the body into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages DNA, resulting in the body’s inability to repair the damage. So when DNA is damaged, a cell can start to grow out of control and can lead to cancer.

Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Women who take a combination of estrogen and progestin are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer is higher when women take combination hormone therapy for a longer period of time, but it decreases markedly when the hormone is stopped.

4) Treatment for breast cancer includes one or a combination of:

Surgery – removal of the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue for small tumors (tumorectomy) and removal of the entire breast for large tumors (mastectomy)

Chemotherapy using anticancer drugs to destroy cancer cells

Radiation therapy using high energy rays that destroy cancer cells.

Hormone therapy – to treat hormone-sensitive breast cancers (estrogen receptor positive and progesterone receptor positive cancers)

Targeted drug therapy is a treatment that targets specific cancer genes and proteins that contribute to cancer growth.

(Dr Sanjiv Chopra – Executive Head of Cancer Control Program, Tata Trusts)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, adequacy or validity of the information contained in this article. All information is provided as is. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV assumes no responsibility in this regard.

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