Reports from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) shows that 1 per 1000(or 124/ 1 lakh) women develop breast cancer in a year.
A woman’s breasts undergo various changes during the growing years. The breasts, influenced by hormonal changes occurring during the menstrual cycle, degenerate and lead to the formation of debris and fluid collection which feel like lumps. This sensation is common among women and is rather normal, as these lumps are usually benign and disappear on their own with time. Breast cancer develops when one malignant cell in the breast starts multiplying in an uncontrolled manner. Upon division, these cells cause lumps which are felt by the woman if it is on the exterior surface of the breast. If the lump is small and deep within, it is difficult to be felt with bare hands.
Breast cancer is said to be caused by a combination of factors including, stress, smoking, drinking, age, genetic factors, unhealthy lifestyle etc. However, all these factors in combination need not necessarily be causative of breast cancer, even one of them can cause the condition. Women these days are aware of the condition, and even its causes. Yet they tend to disregard the importance of early detection and screening. October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in order to create awareness about the condition and early detection.
Breast cancer is curable if diagnosed in the early stages. Diagnosis of breast cancer can be done by performing self-breast examinations and through a mammogram. Self-breast examinations are not as accurate and effective as mammograms, however, it is extremely important for women to know what their breasts feel like and what is normal for the breast and what isn’t. Girls over 20 years of age should self-assess their breasts every month in order to be familiar with its look and feel and to be able to understand and report anything abnormal.
There are various symptoms to look out for, including a lump in the breast, armpit or chest area, pain in the breast or surrounding areas, change in size of the breast, change in color of the nipple, change in skin texture of the breast, redness around the nipple etc. However, symptoms of breast cancer differ among women.
Availability of increased information about the condition has also led to increased misconceptions and myths about the same. The internet today, is flooded with information about the various causes and risk factors of breast cancer, most of which are not supported or proven with any scientific evidence. A few of the most common myths about breast cancer are;
- Breast lump confirms breast cancer
Feeling breast lumps in the breast is common in women of growing ages. These lumps in most cases are benign and caused due to hormonal changes. These benign breast lumps go away on their own with time. However, if you do feel a persistent lump in your breast or observe any other changes, ensure to visit a specialist who would be able to determine if the lump is a concern or not.
- Breast lump is the first indicator of breast cancer
A breast lump is definitely not the first sign of breast cancer, it is only one of the possible symptoms of the condition and not everyone has a noticeable lump. A lump could possibly indicate breast cancer, but a woman needs to be aware of the other possible symptoms of the condition that will help diagnose breast cancer early.
- Breast Cancer is a woman’s disease
Breast cancer affects both men and women. The incidence of the condition is very less in men as compared to that in women. Breast cancer in men is usually diagnosed when there is a lump in the breast, this, however, is often diagnosed only at a later stage because of the of lack of awareness among men. They are less likely to assume that a lump in the breast could be breast cancer, hence it is important for men also to get checked for the condition periodically.
- A mammogram can cause breast cancer
Radiations do put you at the risk of developing breast cancer, however, exposure to radiation during a mammogram is extremely low. Compression of the breast during a mammogram can not cause cancer or cause it to spread. Women above the age of 40 are advised to get mammogram screenings annually as it is the standard procedure for early detection. In addition to this, it is also important to understand that mammograms do not prevent breast cancer, they aid in detection.
- Breast Cancer only runs in the family
5-10% of breast cancers are considered to be hereditary. In other cases, there are various lifestyle and environmental factors that lead to the development of breast cancer.
- Wearing bras with underwires cause breast cancer
Underwired or tight bras and sleeping with a bra on does not cause breast cancer. This may cause some sort of a discomfort but there is no study that proves that the aforementioned are causative of breast cancer.
- Breast Cancer occurs only in older women
It is true that the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. However, younger women are also susceptible to developing the condition. According to the National Cancer Institute, the overall lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is 1 in 8. The rates of occurrence of breast cancer in younger women are low, yet it is possible.
- Breast Cancer is preventable
There is no definitive cause identified for breast cancer. However, it is definitely possible to identify and control the risk factors for breast cancer. Although it is not possible to prevent breast cancer, at an individual level, women need to identify risk factors such as genetic or family history and make lifestyle modifications like reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, losing excess weight, engage in regular physical activity etc. that can control risk factors.
A woman needs to be aware of her breast in order to be able to consult a specialist and report any unusual symptom. The immediate steps on observing any symptom are to visit a specialist and get the necessary tests done as per recommendation. Do not reach conclusions based on learnings from the internet. Regular screenings are important for early detection. A specialist may be able to detect any symptoms of breast cancer before observing any visible ones.
Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai (AJMC)