Breast cancer: warning signs and how do you minimise your risk?
Breast cancer is considered to be one of the most common cancers amongst women around the world. Even in India, the number of breast cancer cases reported every year is alarming, with breast cancer accounting for more than 27% of all new cancer cases. Every year, the month of October is celebrated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month as an effort to educate people about this devastating disease.
Dr Rohan Khandelwal, one of the best breast cancer surgeons in Gurgaon explains breast cancer in further detail to create awareness about the importance of routine screening and early warning signs to watch out for.
Understanding breast cancer
Every part of our body is made up of different types of cells which multiply to replace old cells. In some cases, these cells can start multiplying uncontrollably causing a growth called a tumour. If these cells are normal cells, it is considered to be a benign tumour. However, if these cells are abnormal and do not function the way they are supposed to, they are considered to be malignant or cancer cells.
In the case of breast cancer, the cells of breast tissue start multiplying. In the initial stages, this is limited to the breast tissue. However, in advanced cases, it can invade and start growing on tissue surrounding the breast. In more advanced stages, cancer spreads to the rest of the body, resulting in new tumours. This process is called metastasis.
What causes breast cancer?
While the exact causes of breast cancer are still unknown, several risk factors have been identified through years of medical research. It is still unclear why some women who have no risk factors can also develop breast cancer while some women who are at very high risk never get affected. It is best to stay cautious and aware of warning signs, risk factors and preventive measures.
The risk factors for breast cancer include:
A family history of breast cancer is a risk factor that should not be ignored. If any relatives in your family are affected with breast cancer, your risk of developing it is high. Today it is possible to do genetic testing to detect the presence of cancer genes. In such cases, preventative measures can be taken such as a mastectomy.
French fries, burgers, colas maybe your favourite snacking options, but do not ignore the damage they cause. Red meat, saturated fats, processed food can all cause cancer of the breast, stomach, bowels, mouth and food pipe. It is important to follow a balanced diet with plenty of fiber rich food, whole grains, fruits, vegetables etc. Switch to lean proteins such as chicken and fish. Consuming a little bit of turmeric daily has also been shown to have positive benefits.
Obesity is a complex condition that can result in several health complications such as heart disease, hypertension, type II diabetes etc. Being obese or overweight can also increase your chance of getting breast cancer, especially if you are post-menopause. In such cases, you are advised to go for breast cancer screening with a mammogram at least once a year. Breast cancer is easily treated if detected early. Hence, routine screening goes a long way in minimising the impact of breast cancer.
Regular consumption of alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer.
Consumption of tobacco especially smoking, can result in a wide range of illnesses including cancers of the head and neck as well as breast cancer. There are several support groups available to help people quit smoking.
Related Read: Everything you need to know about Breast density
Preventing breast cancer
Unfortunately, there are still no ways to completely eliminate the risk of breast cancer. Risk factors such as inherited changes in certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), family history etc are beyond our control. You can however minimise its impact by detecting it early on. Early detection offers the best protection against breast cancer.
In your busy life, how often have you looked and felt your breasts to spot any changes in them? Every month, performing a breast self-examination is recommended. This will help you familiarize yourself with your breasts, enabling you to detect any changes easily.
You can learn how to perform a breast self-examination in the following video:
When should you consult a doctor?
Ideally, you should consult a doctor if you spot any change in your breast. This can range from an unusual pain that doesn’t go away or any type of discharge.
The following signs are indicative of changes in your breast and possible symptoms of breast cancer which need immediate attention.
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of the breast
- Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
- A lump in the breast or just below the armpit.
- An Inverted, or upturned nipple
- Scaling, peeling, or crusting of the skin around the nipple area
- Redness of the skin over your breast
- Blood or any unusual discharge from the nipple
Keep checking for any abnormalities/unusual changes in your breast from time to time. It is recommended that if you are over 40 years of age, you should seek annual breast cancer screening with a mammogram. Breast cancer in the early stages may not even require surgery. Hence early detection is your best chance against breast cancer. Consult our experts/surgeons at The Breast Centre to assess your risk and help detect breast cancer in its early stages.