87,090 women died in India due to breast cancer in 2018 according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). That high number is the reason we have Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October. It is an opportunity for us all to focus on breast cancer and its impacts.
Like other cancers, there is no exact cause for breast cancer. There are however, several risk factors that make people susceptible to it. According to India against Cancer, for every two women diagnosed, one woman dies of breast cancer.
There is however, some hope to prevent the disease. On the occasion of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to tell you all about it. That way, you can ensure you are safe, and get treatment if needed. The earlier you get treated, the better the outcome.
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible”Christopher Reeve
Identifying Breast Cancer and its Symptoms
In simple terms, cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in your body. When it occurs in the breast, it is called breast cancer. The severity of the cancer depends from person to person, but there are some common symptoms you can watch out for.
Early signs of breast cancer include swelling and redness of the skin around your armpit and breast. Also check for dimpling, i.e. when your skin turns rough and hard like an orange peel. The most observable sign is the presence of lumps, or unusual swelling. If they don’t hurt, and are hard with irregular edges they are more likely to be cancerous.
Almost everyone is at risk for cancer, since it is a random genetic mutation. However, some people are more at risk. Those risk factors can broadly be classified into uncontrollable and controllable factors.
Uncontrollable factors are those that you cannot change, mostly because they have to do with your DNA. If you have a family history of cancer, it is better to get yearly check-ups and genetic tests. That way you can spot breast cancer early. Controllable factors are those that have to do with lifestyle, and can therefore, be changed.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
- Genetic Changes: If you have inherited the mutation (permanent change to your DNA) to the BRCA 1 and 2 genes, you are more at risk for breast cancer. The mutation is linked to ethnicity, and is more visible in Dutch, French Canadian, Icelandic, and Norwegian people.
- Family History: A woman’s risk doubles if she has a mother, sister or daughter with the disease. A direct male relative with breast cancer can also raise the risk in women.
- Reproductive History: Early menstruation and late menopause in women due to hormonal changes raise their risk of getting breast cancer.
Controllable Risk Factors
- Obesity: Older women who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of getting cancer than those with aren’t.
- Hormone replacement: Hormonal therapies (during menopause) for more than five years also put women at greater risk.
- Avoid Carcinogens: Carcinogens are substances that promote carcinogenesis (formation of cancer). It is wise to avoid or limit your exposure to carcinogens like tobacco, alcohol, UV rays, processed meat and engine exhausts.
- Diet and Exercise: A diet rich in fat is a recipe for cancer. Similarly, those who do not engage in regular exercise are also at greater risk. The American Cancer Society recommends engaging in 45-60 minutes of physical exercise 5 or more days a week.
Of course, it’s important to know that you can still get breast cancer even if you attempt to control these risk factors. That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get cancer. The goal is to reduce the risk as much as possible, and these simple steps are a great way to start. After all, isn’t prevention better than cure?
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