Everything you wanted to know about Breast Cancer

On an average 1 in 8 women suffer from the risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. The World Health Organization states that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide.[1] In the UAE alone, breast cancer is one the top 5 cancers, and the leading cause of deaths caused by cancer.

Breast cancer is most commonly found in women over 40 years of age. However, the condition may also be caused in younger girls/teens, although the incidence is rather low. Women at different ages suffer from the risk of developing the condition and are differentiated based on various risk factors.

For a long time, the topic of breast cancer has been considered taboo and women often shy away from talking about it. In order to create awareness about breast cancer and bust common myths surrounding the condition, listed below are a few frequently asked questions and commonly misunderstood facts about breast cancer.

What is breast cancer?

Cells in any part of the body can become cancerous and multiply and spread to other parts of the body. Breast cancer starts when the breast cells begin to multiply uncontrollably. These cells form a tumor that can be felt externally as a breast lump. Feeling a lump in the breast is common in women because of the changes their breasts go through with the passing years and different phases of menstrual cycle. This lump is benign and generally goes away with time. However, if the lump does seem to stay or grow in size, it is best to consult a specialist.

Breast cancer is caused when the cells multiply and invade surrounding tissues and spread to other areas of the body like the armpit and the chest. Breast cancer can start from any part of the breast. The most common form of cancer is one that begins in the glands that produce breast milk.

The severity of breast cancer is defined by stages which determine the extent to which the cancer cells have spread from its point of origin.

Does a breast lump confirm breast cancer?

A breast lump is only one of the few possible symptoms of breast cancer since only a very small percentage of breast lumps result in breast cancer. Moreover, lumps in the breast are common in younger girls, these lumps are benign and will go away with time. It is important to know what is normal for your breasts and what isn’t. Consult a specialist in case of feeling any abnormalities.

What are the causes of breast cancer?

There is no definitive causative factor of breast cancer identified till now, however, there are identified risk factors which are considered to impact breast cancer. Women with certain risk factors are more likely to develop the condition than others.

  • Age & Gender – it is a common misconception that breast cancer is only caused in women. Although very rare in men, in comparison to women, the condition can also be caused in men. The chances of women developing breast cancer increase with age. Women over 40 years should get mammogram screenings done annually after consulting a specialist.
  • Genetics & family history – women with a family history of breast cancer and certain other cancers such as ovarian and colon cancer, are more likely to develop the condition. Alterations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are the most commonly caused inherited reason of developing the condition.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle practices – leading an unhealthy life including practices like poor dietary habits and lack of physical inactivity leading to obesity, heavy alcohol consumption and smoking are factors that highly increase the risk of breast cancer. Smoking and second-hand smoke are established cause in various forms of cancer. Women taking some kinds of hormonal treatments are also at a high risk of developing cancer.
  • Menstrual history – women who have had their menstruation before the age of 12 and those who attain menopause after the age of 55 suffer from an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • History of benign cancer – women who have previously been had non-cancerous tumors in the breast have increased chances of developing the condition.
  • Exposure to radiation – women or girls who have been exposed to chest radiation have a higher chance of suffering from breast cancer.

Is it true that bra’s cause breast cancer?

This is one of the most common misconceptions among people. There is no proven research stating that women who wear a bra and sleep or women who wear underwired bra are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer

Can breast cancer be prevented?

Science states that leading a healthy lifestyle can lower the risk of breast cancer. This holds true in case of any health condition. Following a healthy diet, working out regularly and leading a healthy lifestyle will help reduce the risk of all possible health conditions.

However, breast cancer is treatable if detected at an early stage. Early detection is key in order to manage the condition, its complications, and associated risks. To aid early detection, women must be taught to self-examine their breast from an early age. Girls over 20 years of age must self-assess their breast once a month in order to be familiar with the look and feel and be able to understand any changes that take place. Self-examination may not be as effective as a mammogram, however, if women know what their breasts feel like normally, they will be able to tell in case of any difference that can be reported to a specialist. Self-breast examination must be done after the monthly menstrual flow as they tend to be swollen during those few days. An annual mammogram is advisable in women over 40 years of age in order to rule out any possibilities after consulting a specialist.

What are the symptoms to note for breast cancer and what to do upon being diagnosed with it?

Symptoms vary and differ from person to person. The various symptoms to look out for are;

  • Breast lump, but not every lump is cancerous.
  • Swelling of the breast and breast pain
  • Skin irritation or rash around the nipple
  • Nipple turning inwards
  • Bloody nipple discharge

Treatment options for breast cancer depend on the stage of cancer. The treatment modalities have now improved to a great extent which do not involve removal of the breast. An expert will recommend the appropriate treatment mode depending on the stage of cancer, the age of the woman and the overall health condition.

Breast Cancer can very well be prevented and treated if diagnosed in its early stages. Regular screenings and self-breast examinations are extremely important in order to completely treat the condition. Raising awareness and encouraging women to talk about the condition is essential to break the stigmas associated with the condition.

Are mammograms painful?

Mammograms are not really very painful, although women may experience some discomfort during the procedure. To avoid this, a woman can have the screening done immediately after their period, which is when their breasts are not very tender.


[1] [1] http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts












Dr. Astha Mishra

Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Aster Clinic, Al Khail


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