February 4 is marked as World Cancer Day, in an effort to raise awareness about this life-threatening disease and the measures that can be taken to prevent deaths. Cancer can affect different parts of the body, and among the various kinds, we are here to talk about breast cancer today. It is crucial that we learn about the various signs and precautions to prevent the onset of breast cancer, which affects millions of women across the globe. So what is breast cancer? The simple definition is that cancer arising in breast tissues is called breast cancer. Although, extremely uncommon in men, breast cancer can occur in both women and men.
Majority breast lumps are non-cancerous or benign. However, one needs to consult a doctor and get herself checked for confirmation if any palpable breast lump/swelling is there.
Cyclical breast pain before or after every menstrual cycle is not related to breast cancer. Majority breast cancers are painless. However, sometimes in advanced stages breast cancer may be associated with pain.
Being a woman itself is a risk for breast cancer, which means every woman has some risk for getting breast cancer and this risk increases with increasing age. Risk of breast cancer is higher in women with family history of either breast or ovarian cancer or women with certain genetic abnormalities such as BRCA gene mutations.
Additionally, women who start early in age with their menstrual cycles or have late menopause (after age of 50 years) are at a higher risk. Women who have first pregnancy after the age of 30 years or later or have no biological children are also at higher risk. Women who are overweight and inactive also carry a higher risk of breast cancer.
Not always. Majority breast cancers (>95%) are not hereditary and do not run in the family.
Here are some common symptoms:
Lump/mass/swelling in breast and /or armpit
Change in size or shape of breast
Change in position of nipple, bloody nipple discharge, nipple retraction (nipple turns inwards)
Change in skin colour or texture: dimpling, puckering or redness
Breast cancer risk can be lowered by adopting healthy lifestyle practices like being physically active by doing daily exercise, maintaining a balanced diet and healthy weight, opting for early pregnancy and breastfeeding, avoiding smoking and alcohol and regularly examining yourself for any symptoms.
Monthly breast self-examination is necessary after the age of 25 years. Clinical breast examination from age of 25-40 years by a doctor should be done once a year. After the age of 40, mammography should be done once a year. If you have a family history of breast cancer, then discuss genetic testing with a genetic counselor.
Mammography is a special type of low dose x-ray of breasts to detect any abnormal growth.
Best time for breast self-examination is 2-3 days after cessation of menstruation. For women who have attained menopause, they can fix a particular date every month for self-examination.
No, there are no clinical studies suggesting that wearing padded/wired bra or use of antiperspirants increase risk of breast cancer.
No. Cancer, including breast cancer, does not spread by any needle test or biopsy. Biopsy is an essential diagnostic test for confirmation of diagnosis.
Breast cancer does not necessarily need complete surgical removal of breasts/mastectomy. Removal of only tumour/cancer and preservation of breast called as breast conservation surgery, is as safe as mastectomy for majority breast cancer patients.
Small percentage of early and favourable breast cancer patients may not require chemotherapy. In the present times, all cancer patient cases are discussed to provide optimum treatment strategies.
About the author: Dr Vineeta Goel is the Associate Director, Radiation Oncology at Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
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