Your questions on Breast Cancer answered

Since what age should women start a breast examination?

Breast cancer is one such cancer that can be cured if detected and treated during initial stages. It is extremely important for women to know what their breasts look and feel like normally so that they are able to differentiate in case of any changes. Breast cancer can happen to women across all age groups, although a majority of the cases of breast cancer occur in women over 40 years of age. However irrespective of the age, women should be aware of their body and its changes. Diagnosing breast cancer in women under 40 years of age is difficult because the breast tissue during that age is much denser than in older women. However self-breast examinations must be done once a month and can be done by women in their 20’s as well. During the teens, women tend to feel lumps in the breast which is quite normal as the breasts are developing and the lumps normally disappear on their own gradually. However, if the lump gets bigger in size or causes pain/discomfort it is better to consult a specialist in order to understand the cause.

A self-breast examination should be done by women whose breasts are fully developed (post-adolescence). Beginning the practice early will help women create a habit out of it and they will become much more familiar with their breasts and can address any changes that the breast undergoes. The self-examination should be done after the days of mensuration as during those days the breasts tend to be swollen. At a younger age, regular examination at frequent intervals is recommended in order to rule out any health condition. Mammograms are not recommended for women below 40 years of age because of the dense breast tissue women have at a younger age, hence mammograms may not be extremely efficient. Women over 40 years of age should screen themselves annually. In case of women who are at higher risk of developing breast cancer; i.e. women who have a family history of breast cancer, women who started menstruating before 12 years of age, women with poor lifestyle habits, women diagnosed with benign breast conditions previously etc. it is recommended to consult a specialist who would be able to advise on the right time to begin mammogram screening.

What is the importance of a self – breast examination?

A woman’s breast goes through changes during the course of her life and it is important to know what is normal and what is not. Self-examination helps women understand their breasts from their look and feel. Regular self- breast examination is one of the useful methods of detecting breast cancer early. A woman needs to be fully aware of her body in order to understand the changes in her body. A self-breast examination is a test you can do at home, although less effective than a mammogram, a woman would be able to check for breast lumps and report any changes to a specialist at the earliest. The purpose of doing a self-breast examination is to understand what is normal for the breast. The changes that a woman should look for during a self-examination are:

  • A lump
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Change in the size of breasts
  • Changes in the skin around the nipple
  • Skin irritation, discoloration or redness

The primary goal of a self-breast examination is to familiarize women with their breasts in order to be able to understand any abnormalities.


What are the first symptoms of breast cancer and what are the immediate steps to be taken?

Symptoms of breast cancer differ and vary from person to person. Sometimes the condition may not depict any visible symptoms. The most common symptom of breast cancer is the feeling of a lump in the breast. The other possible symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • Swelling in the breast
  • Skin irritation
  • Nipple turning inward
  • Thickening of nipple
  • Discharge of blood or a clear liquid from the nipple
  • Breast lump or lump in the area of the underarm

The immediate steps on observing any of the aforementioned symptoms are to visit a specialist and get the necessary tests done as per their recommendation. These are not definitive symptoms of breast cancer and may be caused due to other reasons. However, any visible symptoms such as these should be reported to a specialist. Regular screenings are important for early detection. A specialist may be able to detect any symptoms of breast cancer before observing any visible ones.


How can the family emotionally support a patient of breast cancer? What is the importance of a positive and moral support from the family?

The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer can have a significant impact on one’s family. Cancer patients tend to be by and large depressed emotionally. The family has to be prepared for the changes in her behavior, mood and side effects from treatment and stress make her feel depressed, livid and tired. Encourage her to be active since it may help her feel a sense of control. Help her in her day to day activities. Be assertive instead of aggressive.

The way family and friends cope and react has a direct impact on a woman’s cancer experience. Supportive family and friends can make all the difference, it acts as catalyst to regain strength and comfort. By participating in individual counseling, one might more effectively express sensitive or private feelings about the illness and its impact on lifestyle and relationships. Keep track of medical appointments regularly. Feel free to ask the health care provider questions if you accompany your loved one to her appointments.


How can breast cancer support groups help patients through the treatment?

Breast cancer support groups are a group of people who are either suffering from the condition or are survivors of breast cancer. People with conditions such as breast cancer do not often discuss it in the open because of the social stigma associated with it. However, they may find solace in a support group because they get the opportunity to connect with people who are experiencing similar situations as theirs. People can also use this as an opportunity to share their tips and experiences to provide knowledge to others. Women with breast cancer may find it comforting or safe to discuss their issues and voice their concerns among people who understand them and their health condition because such women suffer from various physical and emotional problems that are often stigmatized.


Why is a woman with a family history of breast cancer likely to inherit the disease?

Approximately 5%-10% of breast cancers are considered to be caused in women with a family history of the condition. The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is if the woman has inherited the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene. The original function of the BRCA gene is to act as a tumor suppressor and produce proteins that repair damaged DNA. Variations of these genes that result from gene defects passed on directly from parents lead to abnormal cell growth leading to cancer. Women with a family history of breast cancer are more likely to develop the condition.


Why is the month of October significant for breast cancer awareness?

The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an awareness activity that began to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Ever since a variety of events have been organized around the world in the month of October in order to create awareness about breast cancer and aid early detection of the condition. A pink ribbon symbolizes support towards the cause.


Breast cancer answered











Dr. Rajeshwari SN

Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Aster Clinic, Ras Al Khaimah


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