October is celebrated in the world as breast cancer awareness month. We organized a awareness program for the same recently. A presentation and pink ribbon tying was done to show support. Below we present few facts and glimpses from the program. The main motto was "let's kill ignorance" and educate women to detect cancer early. India is a great nation. In last 25 years Indian women have made us proud. They are intelligent, successful, smart, beautiful... But this is only one side of the coin. The picture on other side is very disturbing. Indian has the highest number of breast and cervical cancer deaths in the world. Both of them can be detected early or prevented and many lives saved. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in India and worldwide. Every year 1.5 lac women are diagnosed with breast cancer in India. There is a lack of awareness about this cancer among women. In India 50% cases are detected in stage 3 and 4 when it has spreaded. That is why our cure rates and 5 year survival rates are less.
Risk factors 85% patients with breast cancer have no family history. Other risk factors include age>50 years, no kids, late marriage and kids, no breastfeeding, early menses and late menopause, alcohol and smoking, obesity, high fat diet, physical inactivity.
Symptoms Symptoms of breast cancer - a painless lump is the most common, abnormal nipple discharge, nipple retraction, dimpling of skin of breast, change in shape and size of breast.
Early detection We cannot prevent this cancer. Early detection is the key and it saves lives. Two terms are important to understand for this - Breast awareness and Self breast examination. Every woman should be aware of her normal breast size and shape so she can detect changes at the earliest. How to do Breast self examination? All women after 25 years should self examine their breasts every month after menses. It should be done in different positions. First standing in front of mirror look for normal size and shape of breasts, normal axilla. Then start palpation with pulp of middle 3 fingers to look for lumps. When examining right breast use left hand fingers and vice a versa. Feel entire breast, all quadrants in clockwise or anticlockwise direction. Do deep and superficial palpation both. Palpate similarly in both axilla. Look for any nipple changes. See the skin of breast. Then do the same in sleeping position. Report to your doctor if any abnormality is found. This should be done every month till 65 to 70 years of age.
What measures can you take to prevent cancer? Eat healthy, maintain a proper weight. Exercise and be physically active. Avoid alcohol and smoking. Breast feed your baby for atleast 1 year. What are screening recommendation for breast cancer? Sonomammography every 2 years starting between 45-50 years, not after 50 and till 69 years. For women with strong family history, yearly Sonomammography is recommended.
It is important to attend a well woman visit with your doctor yearly once after 40 years which should include general check up and breast examination.
What are the diagnostic tests done if you have symptoms of breast cancer? Sonography of breast is more informative in premenopausal women. Sonomammography is done in postmenopausal women. Fine needle aspiration cytology or biopsy lesion may be offered. CT scan may be required to rule out metastasis. What treatment options are available? According to staging of breast cancer options like surgery, chemotherapy radiotherapy are available. If treated in early stages survival rates are good provided long term chemotherapy is completed.
Also all lumps are not cancer, so this information is not to scare anyone. Also Mammography only detects cancer in early stage, does not prevent it.
Disclaimer - these are the views of a qualified doctor and author. These are general suggestions and do not replace actual check up by the doctor. Any resemblance to anyone is coincidental.
Author information - Dr Harita N Kothia, Obstetrician and gynecologist, Mumbai.