Breast cancer awareness: A guide on prevention, detection and diagnosis

Breast cancer is becoming a big health concern across the world. Awareness about this disease is important to reduce the stigma around it.
Breast cancer during pregnancy
Breast cancer awareness is the need of the hour. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Anu Joseph Published: 7 Feb 2023, 11:30 am IST
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Breast cancer is now paving its way to being the number one cancer in women in India. That’s why we need to make sure that awareness about prevention, early detection and the treatment options are discussed. With discussion, the stigma about breast cancer can change. Once the knowledge improves and the stigma vanishes, more and more women would be at an advantage. With this intent, here are some important things to know about prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

Tips to prevent cancer

Prevention of breast cancer is mostly by avoiding few high risk factors, changes in lifestyle and awareness.

* Maintaining adequate weight plays an important role in prevention of most of the lifestyle diseases. It’s the same with breast cancer.
* Women must indulge in a daily minimum 15-45 minutes of physical activity, apart from their daily chores, which can include walking, playing physical games like badminton, dancing. Adding a weekly dose of strength training helps in maintaining balance.
* Limiting alcohol intake and avoiding smoking, brings down one’s risk of developing breast cancer immensely. Women, especially with a family history of breast cancer, or who have additional high risk factors, should absolutely consider avoiding alcohol and smoking.
* Breastfeeding has been known to have protective/preventive role in breast cancer. The longer the woman breastfeeds, the lesser the chances of developing breast cancer.

Risk factors of breast cancer
Know the risk factors of breast cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

* Certain hormone therapies are known to increase the risk of breast cancer. For example, oral contraceptives. However, the clinical utility of hormones in offering reproductive choices to women, its role in managing dysfunctional uterine bleeding and its role in other issues like refractory post menopausal issues, far outweigh the risk of breast cancer. Hence, these are being still prescribed.

In case you are at increased risk of breast cancer, due to any relevant history, please make sure that you discuss the medication strategies with your physician at the time of starting the medication

Early detection of breast cancer

Early detection of breast cancer has been found to the single most useful step in curing this disease. The earlier the detection, the longer is the cancer-free survival, and minimal are the treatment requirements. Here are some early detection strategies:

1. Self examination

Self-breast examination is the most important one of them. It can be easily learned. Please meet your gynaecologist and ask about the same. In case any suspected lump or changes are seen, visit the gynaecologist immediately.

2. Evaluation

Getting periodic evaluation is also important. The general advice is to have yearly physical evaluation at you family physician/gynaecologist for evaluation of any abnormalities.

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breast cancer detection
Knowing how to do a self-examination for breast cancer detection is important. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Imaging

The third key in detection is of course the imaging studies. Women who are menstruating, needs to undergo serial ultrasound of breast called sono-mammography. Post menopausal women are advised to undergo mammography (X-ray). The frequency of testing depends on lots of factors including history, examination findings.

Breast cancer treatment

By any chance if breast cancer is suspected, the next investigation would be confirm the diagnosis using a biopsy, which usually is done by Fine Needle Aspiration (FNAC) of the mass found and any other additional lumps like a lymph-node.

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Further, the breast cancer treatment is varied. It is dependent on the size of the mass, the extent of the spread and the clinical details of the patient. The choice may be made between surgery, radiation or chemotherapy or any combination of the three.

Also read: Breast cancer treatment taught me to prioritize myself, says 52-year-old survivor

The last word

In today’s world what we need to understand and propagate is the idea that breast cancer is not uncommon. However, it can be detected very early and can be treated adequately without affecting the longevity of the individual. Women who are not getting evaluated themselves or with their physician due to lack of knowledge or due to various stigmas associated with the diagnosis of cancer, more so breast cancer. Awareness is the key.

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About the Author

Dr Anu Joseph is a consultant OBG and high-risk pregnancy and fetal medicine Kauvery hospital, Electronic City, Bengaluru. ...Read More

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