Breast cancer has become one of the most diagnosed form of cancers in the 21st century, accounting for around 12 per cent of the total cancer cases worldwide. According to the United Nations, 6,85,000 patients died of breast cancer in the year 2020 alone.
As it emerges as one of the leading causes of female cancer deaths in countries, women should be educated to understand even the smallest changes occuring in their breasts. Onmanorama speaks to an expert on breast cancer awareness month to know more about the disease.
“Lumpiness, changes in your nipples, discharges from the breast (may be blood-tinged), tethering (pull on the overlying skin inwards like a dimple), and fullness in your armpits are a few of the common symptoms of breast cancer. If you have witnessed these changes recently, you should consult a doctor immediately,” says Dr Arunima Poulose, Consultant Surgeon at the Breast And Endocrine Surgery Unit at Believer's Church Medical College Hospital, Thiruvalla.
How to check
While breast self-examinations at home can’t replace a medical check-up, they’re still very useful in finding any abnormalities or changes to your bust. According to Dr Arunima, women need to check their breasts at regular intervals.
“While menstruating women should check them a week after your periods, post-menopausal women should try checking them on the same day every month,” she said.
Step 1: Be familiar
Stand in front of the mirror with arms raised above the head. You should be familiar with how your bust looks normally to understand the changes in contour, swelling, dimpling of skin, or any differences around the nipples.
Step 2: Feel around
Feel your breast with your palm to understand if there are any lumps. Do not poke your breast. Check your nipples to know if there are any recent changes.
Step 3: Lie down
Lie down on your back with your right arm behind your head. Examine your right breast with your left hand in concentric circles, up and down or in a clockwise manner. Repeat the exam on your left breast using your right hand. Use the pads of your fingers (not just the tips) to thoroughly feel around, and with different levels of pressure. Press down all around the breasts and under your armpits in a methodical pattern and make sure to squeeze the nipples to check for any discharge. You should be looking out for any lumps, thickening, hardening, or knots at this step.
If you notice any changes after the self-examination, make an appointment with the doctor for further check-up immediately. According to health experts, mammograms need not be conducted in all patients.
“Ultrasound, mammogram, MRI, PET scan and finally biopsy is done for confirmation of breast cancer,” says Dr Arunima.
Almost 10 per cent of breast cancer cases arise from heredity which is a non-modifiable factor. “This is worrisome as the remaining 90 per cent will not consider themselves at risk,” she said.
Some of the modifiable risk factors of breast cancer include the age at which you gave birth, the number of years you breastfed your baby, body mass index higher than 30, use of tobacco, alcohol and hormone therapy.
Breast cancer has four stages. Following a metastatic workup, a treatment plan is drafted. Surgery can involve either a lumpectomy, which involves the removal of the tumour, or a mastectomy, which removes the entire breast. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy is also used as a treatment of breast cancer.