Even with all the advances in medicine, cancer of the breast continues to be a dreaded illness, representing 1.6 per cent i.e. 4,00,000 of all female deaths worldwide. India’s first cancer atlas prepared by Indian Council of Medical Research confirms that breast cancer has replaced cervical cancer as the leading site of cancer among women in some Indian cities. What the statistics fail to describe is the boundless trauma associated with breast cancer. Since breast is an important psychological and physiological part of a woman’s being, any disease that affects it not only affects the woman physically but also emotionally. Breast cancer starts with a lump and then spreads to other parts of the body.
When Payal walked in on her mother Tulsi changing, she was horrified to see a large lump on her chest. She forced her mother to the doctor and the diagnosis was devastating, breast cancer. Out of embarrassment, fear, ignorance and excruciating shyness, Tulsi had not told anyone about it. “There are many Tulsi’s out there who would rather die than talk about something as intimate as abnormalities on their breasts. And that has to change.” says Dr. Dinesh Pendharkar, Sr Consultant, Cancer Chemotherapy, Batra Hospital & Medical Research Centre, New Delhi. The problem of breast cancer is also compounded by the fact that as many as 80 per cent of breast cancer cases come to hospitals in an advanced stage of the disease. This delay is either because most patients are unaware of the disease or they have misconceptions about it which delay their seeking medical help.
“Educating women about the risks of breast cancer constitutes the first step towards early detection of breast cancer, so that women are enabled to judge their risk and take relevant measures.” informs Dr. Pendharkar. Women who are post-menopausal, and are overweight, have nearly a 40% increased risk of breast cancer, because obese women produce less oestrogen binding hormones.
Other factors leading to high risk in breast cancer are late marriages and late child-bearing, changing attitudes to breast-feeding, stress and late menopause.
Expert’s advice women to reduce their fat intake, increase the use of healthy foods, reduce ‘snacking’ and exercise more especially if they come from high-risk families where a mother or sister below the age of 50 has breast cancer. Women below the age of 25 have a one in 15,000 chance of getting the disease, rising to one in ten by the time they are 85.
Breastfeeding may offer broad protection against breast cancer that extends to women who delay having children. Studies have shown that giving birth before age 25 and having many children protects against certain types of breast cancers, while delayed childbirth is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
”As more women may choose to delay pregnancy until after 25, it is important to note that breastfeeding provides protection against both estrogen and progesterone receptor positive and negative tumors,” informs Dr. Pendharkar.