Who can get Breast Cancer?
- Age at menarche and menopause: Earlier the age of menarche and later the age of menopause, or alternatively more the number of years a female gets her menstrual periods for, the higher is the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Family history of Breast Cancer: Any female who has any close relatives (mother, sister, aunt etc.) is at a risk of developing breast cancer.
- History of smoking, alcohol or tobacco intake: The toxic compounds in cigarettes and alcohol are known to cause breast cancer as well.
- Exposure to radiation or drugs: Drugs like diethylasbestos (DES) and radiation exposure (in hospital staff, research lab staff etc.) can cause breast cancer.
- Exposure to excess hormones: Any female who is on hormone replacement therapy or hormone based contraceptive pills is at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Individuals at lesser risk:
- Gave birth before the age of 30 years
- Have breastfed
- Have a healthy diet and a normal BMI
- Engage in physical activity
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
- Change in shape, size or symmetry of the two breasts.
- Change in the skin of the breast (like dimpling).
- A painless lump (most commonly in the upper outward quadrant)
- Pain in breast tissue.
- Retraction or pulling in of the nipple.
- Discharge from nipple (unlike breastmilk)
What can be done at home?
Owing to the painless nature of this cancer and also the fact that the breast tissue is naturally lumpy, it is difficult to catch a mass in the early stages. However, there is a simple self-breast assessment which if done periodically can help improve the outcome of breast cancers.
- When– the first/second day of the menstrual cycle
- Where– preferably in the shower, with some soap in hand
- Stand straight. Examine one breast at a time. Place your arm on the opposite shoulder (behind the head) to stretch and expose the breast.
- With the pads of the fingers of the opposite hand, gentle press the breast tissue to feel for any lumps. The lumps, if present, will usually be hard.
- Examine in a circular pattern, going from outside to inside.
- Repeat for the other breast.
- Note: Breast tissue is naturally lumpy so avoid pinching as it may give a false result. If an actual lump is detected, consult your doctor as soon as possible.</ul>
- A cancer diagnosis is devastating news for the patient, and their family. Breasts are symbolic of motherhood and femininity, and a breast cancer diagnosis can tear apart a woman’s mental health. Patients undergo feelings of stress, anxiety, fear all of which are compounded by the society’s reaction to it. It hence becomes an utmost priority to offer mental support to the woman, and her caretakers.
- Keeping oneself busy helps to escape from the constant loop of negative thoughts. Reading books, watching movies, writing, listening to music or any other hobby can help alleviate stress and get some peace of mind.
- Use valid sources for educating oneself. Do not believe in hearsay stories and always fact check whatever you read.
- Know that every patient and every disease is different. No two patients will have a similar fate, so don’t trouble yourself with the negative stories you read online.
- Get professional psychiatric help if needed. Breast Cancer diagnosis and treatment can be a traumatic experience. Do not hesitate in asking for help, going for therapies and talking about it. Your body is only as healthy as your mind is.
Post-surgical pain is one of the most common complaints of patients of breast cancer. To help alleviate this, the doctor will prescribe medications for some time. Apart from the medication, certain tips to help with the pain are:
- Take adequate sleep. It helps the body heal and remain well-rested.
- Exercise and slowly start physical activity. Fall back in your routine to give you some normalcy.
- Brace (hold) the surgical site before you cough or sneeze. It helps prevent accidental damage and increased pain in the stitches.
- Notice what activities aggravate pain. Avoid them consciously and bring it up with the therapist.
Following surgery for breast cancer, the mobility of the shoulder and arm may be restricted. To alleviate this, the following exercises have proved to be effective:
- Use the arm for daily activities like holding objects, combing hair, eating etc.
- Fold the elbow and touch the affected shoulder. Alternate with touching the opposite shoulder.
- Deep breathing exercises to help restore the normal movement of the chest
- In the sitting position, clasp the hands in front. More the arms above the head. Bend towards the right. Hold and then return back to the normal position. Repeat for the other side.
Note: Always consult your doctor and therapist if any exercise increases pain and discomfort.
When to see a doctor?
- Any gross changes in the shape, size, skin of the breast tissue
- Any noticeable lump in the breast tissue
- Any thickening or swelling of the breast tissue
- Retraction of the nipple
- Any abnormal discharge from the nipple
- Oral Medication: There are anti-cancer drugs available which have proved to be effective in most patients.
- Radiotherapy and chemotherapy
- Surgery: Depending on the progression of the cancer, the operating surgeon may decide on mastectomy (removal of the entire breast tissue) or lumpectomy (removal of only the lump).
This article is meant to guide and educate the patients. All medical treatment is to be undertaken under the guidance of expert medical service providers only.