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Raising Awareness: The Growing Threat of Breast Cancer in India

  • October 23, 2023
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Raising Awareness: The Growing Threat of Breast Cancer in India

October is globally acknowledged as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's a time when communities, organizations, and individuals come together to raise awareness about breast cancer, support survivors, and fund research for a cure. In this blog, we delve into the world of breast cancer, its increasing prevalence in India, the underlying causes, symptoms to watch out for, and, most importantly, preventive measures that can make a difference in countless lives.

The Rising Threat of Breast Cancer in India

Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that develops in the cells of the breast. It affects both men and women, but women are disproportionately more susceptible. In recent years, breast cancer has emerged as a significant public health concern in India.

According to data from the National Cancer Registry Program, over 1,60,000 new cases were reported each year, making up nearly 30% of all new cancer cases in women. Even more concerning, the World Health Organization estimated that the number of breast cancer cases in India could double by 2030.

These statistics paint a concerning picture of the breast cancer landscape in India. It's a growing threat that requires urgent attention, early detection, and a collective effort to raise awareness.

Why is Breast Cancer a Growing Threat in India?

Several factors contribute to the increasing incidence of breast cancer in India:

  1. Changing Lifestyles: Urbanization and the adoption of Western lifestyles have introduced dietary habits and physical inactivity that are risk factors for breast cancer.
  2. Delayed Childbearing: An increasing number of women in India are opting for delayed childbearing, which is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
  3. Hormonal Changes: Use of oral contraceptives and hormonal therapies has become more common, contributing to hormonal imbalances that can trigger breast cancer.
  4. Genetic Predisposition: A significant number of breast cancer cases in India are linked to hereditary factors, particularly mutations in the BRCA genes.
  5. Limited Awareness: Late-stage diagnosis is a pervasive issue in India due to limited breast cancer awareness, leading to reduced survival rates.

Understanding the factors that contribute to breast cancer is crucial for early detection and preventive efforts. Here, we discuss the common causes and risk factors associated with breast cancer.

Gender and Age

Breast cancer predominantly affects women, but it can occur in men as well. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring in women over the age of 50.

Family History and Genetics

A strong family history of breast cancer can significantly increase one's risk. Specific gene mutations, like BRCA1 and BRCA2, are known to predispose individuals to breast cancer. Genetic counselling and testing can help identify those at risk.

Hormonal Factors

Hormonal factors play a crucial role. Women exposed to estrogen for an extended period, such as early menstruation, late menopause, or hormone replacement therapy, have a higher risk. Additionally, not having children or late-age pregnancies can increase susceptibility.

Lifestyle and Environmental Factors

Unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and a diet high in saturated fats, can contribute to breast cancer risk. Prolonged exposure to environmental pollutants may also play a role.

Radiation Exposure

Exposure to ionizing radiation, especially during chest X-rays in early life or radiation therapy, can increase breast cancer risk.

Personal Health History

A previous history of breast cancer, certain non-cancerous breast diseases, or radiation exposure to the chest area in childhood can elevate an individual's risk.

Obesity

Obesity has been associated with a higher risk of breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms, especially combined estrogen-progestin therapy, can increase breast cancer risk.

Socioeconomic and Cultural Factors

Access to healthcare and awareness of breast cancer can vary based on socioeconomic and cultural factors, affecting early diagnosis and treatment.

Understanding these causes and risk factors is the first step towards reducing the risk of breast cancer. However, it's equally important to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer for early detection.

Breast cancer symptoms can vary, and not everyone experiences the same signs. Being aware of these potential symptoms is vital for early detection and improved treatment outcomes. Here are some common signs to watch for:

1. Breast Lump or Thickening

One of the most common signs is the presence of a new lump or mass in the breast. This lump may be painless or tender and can be located anywhere in the breast.

2. Changes in Breast Size or Shape

Changes in the size, shape, or appearance of the breast can be a potential symptom. This may include unexplained swelling, shrinkage, or distortion of the breast.

3. Nipple Changes

Look for changes in the nipple, such as retraction (turning inward), nipple pain, redness, scaliness, or discharge, especially if it's bloody.

4. Skin Changes

Changes in the skin over the breast, like dimpling or puckering, can be a sign. Some people describe it as similar to the texture of an orange peel.

5. Unexplained Pain

Persistent pain in the breast or armpit that doesn't go away with the menstrual cycle should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

6. Swelling in the Armpit or Collarbone

Swelling in the lymph nodes under the arm or around the collarbone can be a sign that breast cancer has spread.

It's essential to remember that these symptoms don't always indicate breast cancer, and they can be caused by other benign conditions. However, if you notice any of these changes, it's crucial to consult a healthcare provider promptly for a thorough examination.

Part 4: Preventive Tips

Breast cancer can often be prevented or detected at an early, more treatable stage. Here are some preventive tips:

1. Regular Breast Self-Exams

Perform monthly breast self-examinations to become familiar with your breasts. Report any changes or concerns to your healthcare provider.

2. Clinical Breast Exams

Have a clinical breast examination by a healthcare professional at least once every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, and annually for women 40 and older.

3. Mammograms

Follow recommended mammogram guidelines based on your age and risk factors. Mammograms can detect breast cancer in its early stages.

4. Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Maintain a healthy weight, engage in regular physical activity, limit alcohol consumption, and avoid smoking.

5. Know Your Family History

If you have a family history of breast cancer or carry known genetic mutations, discuss your risk and screening options with a genetic counsellor.

6. Breastfeed

Breastfeeding may have a slight protective effect against breast cancer.

7. Stay Informed

Stay informed about the latest developments in breast cancer awareness, research, and early detection techniques.

Breast cancer awareness and early detection can save lives. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let's focus on prevention, education, and support for those affected. By spreading awareness and taking preventive measures, we can reduce the impact of breast cancer and work towards a future free from this disease.