Breast Cancer kills one woman every 75 seconds

According to recent statistics, a new case of breast cancer is diagnosed every 29 seconds. Moreover, the mastectomy rate in India is more than 90 per cent, which is double the rate of US. The reason is that most of the Indian patients are in advanced stages of breast cancer at the time of diagnoses. Dr Kanchan Kaur, Associate Director, Medanta Breast services says, “Breast cancer develops due to multiple factors, interplay of which is still not very well understood.” Unfortunately since there is no magic formula to prevent breast cancer, the best way to protect oneself is to be aware about early detection, so that if it ever develops, it gets detected at an early stage and can be treated.

Dr Jyoti Arora, Senior Consultant Radiologist, Medanta, Medicity Hospital warns, “The scariest part of breast cancer in India is that more young women (in their 30s and 40s) are being affected with cancer, which is much more aggressive as compared to the cancer in older women. Lack of awareness and screening results in late presentation of cancer is directly decreasing the overall survival rate in India as compared to the West.”

Dr Sidharth Sahni, Senior Consultant Breast and Oncoplastic Surgeon at Apollo Indraprastha Hospital explains, “Breast cancer is a disease often brought on by a combination of factors rather than a single factor. It's due to this reason that unless there is a direct genetic mutation such as in a BRCA carrier, there is no direct link between who will or who won't develop this disease.”

But there are few things that women can control, advises Dr Sahni:

1) Healthy diet
There is no specific ‘anti-cancer’ diet despite many claims to the contrary. However, this essentially entails a diet rich in protein and roughage and low in carbohydrates (especially refined carbs) and fats.

2) Exercise
In combination with the diet, it is important to maintain body mass index (BMI) in the normal weight for height. Obesity and particularly central obesity is linked to an increase in cancer of about 30-35 per cent.

3) Pregnancy and lactation
First child before 30 and breast feeding for 6-18 months may well decrease the risk of cancer.

4) Say no to tobacco in any form

5) Alcohol consumption less than 4 units a week

6) Ideally monogamy and if there are multiple partners, then safe sex practices need to be used. The HPV virus is transmitted sexually and implicated in cervical and now head and neck cancers.

Breast cancer runs in family?
It is commonly believed that those who have a family history of breast cancer are more prone to the disease. Dr Kaur clears the air, “Approximately 90 per cent of breast cancer happens in women who do not have a family history of breast cancer. In 10-15 per cent women with strong family history, an identifiable defective gene is found only in 15-20 per cent. Such women have an 80 per cent lifetime risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.” Any woman who has a family history of these cancers must be seen in a family history clinic to evaluate her risk and to have an individualized tailored risk reduction and screening follow up program made for her.

Breastfeeding and breast cancer
Many say breastfeeding helps avoid breast cancer. But how true is it? Dr Ruchika Nagrath, Lamaze Child Birth Educator, Member of Medela Lactation Consultants Club explains, “Breastfeeding can lower the risk of getting breast cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer, especially if a woman breastfeed for longer than one year. There is less benefit for women who breastfeed for less than 1year. There are several reasons why breastfeeding protects breast health.” Here’s why:

1) Obesity is a major risk factor for most cancers including breast cancer and bowel cancer. Breastfeeding can help new mothers lose any excess body weight more quickly. This is one way of reducing breast cancer.

2) Breastfeeding lowers the levels of estrogen in a woman's body. Continuous exposure to high levels of estrogen increases the risk of breast cancer as it causes the estrogen receptor sensitive breast cells to multiply. Life events that affect the estrogen levels such as pregnancy and breastfeeding can alter your cancer risk.

3) At the end of breast feeding, your body gets rid of DNA damaged cells in the breast. DNA damaged cells can multiply uncontrollably and cause lump formation. Hence breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing breast cancer in the future

4) Thirty to forty per cent of cancers are caused due to unhealthy food. During breastfeeding women tend to maintain healthier life styles. They tend to eat more nutritious foods and also limit smoking and alcohol abuse. This also protects them from breast cancer.

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