Did you know that incidence of breast cancer is approximately 1 in every 8 women? That breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women? Or that over the last decade studies show that breast cancer is the second largest cause of death after lung cancer? The good news however, is that mortality rates have declined – particularly in young women – most probably as a result of early detection and improved treatment.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer develops when one malignant cell starts dividing in an uncontrolled manner from the lining of the breast ducts. As the cells divide, they create a lump which can be felt by the patient if the lump happens to be superficial, if the lump is small or deep, then it is hard to detect with your fingers and must be discovered early with periodic mammograms or ultrasounds.
Causes of breast cancer
There is no one single factor that causes breast cancer. Breast cancer is multi-factorial disease caused by a combination of stress, abdominal obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, alcohol, pollution, birth control pills, delayed breast feeding, large breasts, advancing age and genetic factors. You do not have to have all these factors get breast cancer but the more factors you have the more likely that you get breast cancer.
What are the common signs of breast cancer?
- A lump in the breast
- Thickening of the breast
- Change in shape or look of the breast
- Skin changes – dimpling or puckering of skin over the breast
- Swelling, redness or warmth that does not go away
- Pain in the breast: particularly in one spot: that does not vary with the monthly cycle.
- Blood or any other discharge from the nipple that starts suddenly and appears in one breast.
- Any itchy, sore or scaling area on one nipple.
What are the factors that place women at risk?
- Age: This is the single most important factor. The older a woman gets, the higher the risk, as 80% of all breast cancer occurs in post-menopausal women.
- Family History: Women with a strong family history of either breast/ovarian cancer, especially among relatives, are more susceptible to breast cancer and they account for 5-10% of all breast cancer patients.
- Not Having Children: Studies show that women who have borne children are lesser prone to breast cancer.
- Late First Pregnancy: A woman who has her first child after the age of 30 is more prone to breast cancer.
- Early Start of Periods: Women who have had their periods at the age of 11 years or so are more prone to breast cancer.
- Late Menopause: Women, in whom the menopause has started after the age of 55 years.
If you have any of the above signs, be alerted and not alarmed. Consult your doctor.
How can you reduce the risk of breast cancer?
It is not possible to prevent breast cancer yet, but one can reduce the risk of suffering from the disease.
- Be Breast Aware: Early detection is the aim and therefore one should be aware of the signs of breast cancer and act immediately on noticing any abnormality.
- Self-Breast Examination: The technique of self-breast examination should be learnt from the doctor and it should be carried out monthly after the age of 20 years. (Technique of self-breast examination is also given in this leaflet.)
- Clinical Breast Examination: Clinical breast examination is done by a trained doctor and should be done at least every 3 years beginning at the age of 20 years and annually after the age of 40.
- Mammography: Also known as x-ray of the breast should be done should be done after the age of age of 40.
- Healthy Well Balanced Diet & Regular Exercise: A low-fat, high fiber diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, combined with regular exercise is known to enhance overall health and maintain healthy body weight. Remember that post-menopausal and overweight women have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Prevention & early detection
There are now major health programs involved in research and development into prevention, early detection, and new treatments with the aim of reducing the morbidity and mortality from breast cancer
The diagnosis is made by a combination of mammography, breast ultra-sound and increasingly core biopsy and histopathology of the breast lesion rather than the previously used fine needle aspiration and cytological analysis.
How to conduct a routine self-examination for breast cancer
Examine your breasts in a mirror. Has there been any change in size? Has one nipple become turned in? Any sign of discharge? Is there any puckering, dimpling or change in skin texture?
Raise hands above your head and examine breasts leading to armpit. Any swelling or skin puckering? Lower and raise your arms while watching your nipples. Do they move the same distance?
Lean forward and examine each breast for change in outline, puckering, dimpling of the skin or retractions of the nipple.
Lying down, start with left breast. Use the flat of the hand to feel for any lumps, thick or bumpy area. Don’t press too hard or too lightly. With a little practice you’ll get it right.
Slide you hand over the breast above the nipple starting at the armpit moving inwards. Feel for lumps. Keep moving your hand across the nipple till you’ve felt all parts of the breast.
Feel for lumps along the top of your collarbone and in armpit. Repeat whole examination on right breast. If you detect anything unusual consult your doctor immediately. But please remember only one in every 10 lumps found worthy of investigation for cancer may prove malignant.
What is breast clinic?
The breast clinics provide comprehensive care for people who have breast cancer and other high-risk breast conditions. Doctors at NMC Hospitals also evaluate several other breast conditions, including:
- Abnormal mammogram and new or suspicious lumps
- Breast cancer risk assessment and family history of breast cancer
- Enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) in men
- Noncancerous (benign) breast disease, atypical, ductal and lobular hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
- Other breast problems such as changes in breast skin, nipple discharge, breast infection and breast pain
At NMC, doctors diagnose breast abnormalities and provide many services including:
- Breast cancer screening
- Mammography, ultrasound, MRI-guided breast biopsy and other services
- Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, biological treatments, hormone therapy and other treatments for breast cancer
- Breast cancer prevention counseling
- Genetic counseling for people who are at high risk for breast cancer
- Breast awareness Patient education
- Breast specialists at NMC are trained in breast surgery, breast imaging, medical cancer treatment (oncology), the study of tissue samples for signs of disease (pathology), plastic surgery, genetics, nursing and psychology to diagnose and treat breast conditions.
- The Breast Care Clinic team includes specialists in radiology, pathology, oncology, plastic surgery, pharmacy, physiotherapy and psychology.
- All three NMC Speciality hospitals offer diagnostic and treatment services for people who have breast changes or problems ranging from benign breast conditions to breast cancer.
Meet our doctors
Get in touch with NMC surgeon to know more about the procedures and related solutions.
Dr. Sukrith Shetty
Specialist surgical oncologist