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Celebrating Women’s Day - Fighting Breast Cancer

Bhawna Arya Bajaj,
Assistant Editor, DoctorNDTV

Celebrating Women’s Day - Fighting Breast Cancer

International Women's Day is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women. This women's day the focus is to raise awareness about breast cancer, one the most common cancer in Indian women and women around the globe.

Experts project breast cancer to affect approximately 2.5 lakh women in India by 2015. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), breast cancer has overtaken cervical cancer to become the leading cause of cancer-related mortality among women living in metropolitan cities. Over 100,000 women each get affected the disease, as per ICMR.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the uncontrolled malignant growth of cells in the breast tissue. There are many types of breast cancers, those that form in the milk glands, in the ducts that carry milk, in the fatty area or in the connective tissue of the breast. Cancer of the milk ducts is the most commonly occurring form of breast cancer. Usually only one breast is affected. There is a rare type of breast cancer in which the breast becomes red and swollen and resembles infection of the breast.

The high risk group

Breast cancer patients are categorised into various groups depending on their risk status. The following categories explain the risk ratio:

1. Highest Risk:

  • Older patients who are North Americans.
  • Two first degree relatives with breast cancer at early age
  • History of cancer in one breast.
2.Intermediate risk:
  • Nodular densities seen in a mammogram that occupy 75% of breast volume
  • One first - degree relative with breast cancer.
  • Atypical hyperplasia on breast biopsy.
  • High dose radiation to chest.
3.Increased risk:
  • Urban residence
  • First pregnancy after age 30 years
  • Puberty at age < 12 years / menopause at age > 53 years
  • Obesity
  • Nulliparous (never having given birth to a child)
  • Use of hormonal contraceptives / HRT
  • History of primary endometrial, ovarian and colonic cancer
  • Use of alcohol
How to reduce the risk of breast cancer?

Risk factors for breast cancer include older age, certain inherited genetic alterations, hormone therapy, having radiation therapy to the chest, drinking alcohol, and being obese. It may be possible to decrease the risk of breast cancer by getting exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. The following tips may help you further reduce your risk of breast cancer:-

1. Maintain a healthy body weight - Weight gain in midlife, independent of body mass index (BMI), has been shown to significantly raise the risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, an elevated BMI has been conclusively shown to up the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer. So, maintain a healthy body weight and keep your BMI under 25.

2. Minimise alcohol use - Excessive alcohol use is a well established risk factor for breast cancer. Several scientific studies have shown that consuming more than one alcoholic beverage a day can boost breast cancer risk by as much as 20-25 percent.

3. Include more fruits and vegetables to your diet - Eat seven or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. All cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower etc., dark leafy green vegetables like spinach; carrots and tomatoes help protect against breast cancer risk. Also include fruits like citrus, berries and cherries to your diet.

4. Be physically active - Regular exercise and being physically active has been shown to provide protection against breast cancer. A 30 minute session of moderate aerobic activity (brisk walking) five or more days a week could do wonders.

5. Go for whole grains - Replace the "wrong" carbohydrates like white rice, sugar, white flour with whole grains and beans / legumes. Beans / legumes because of their high fibre and lignan content are especially special.

6. Do your fats right - The type of fat in your diet may affect your breast cancer risk. Minimise consumption of omega-6 fats (sunflower, safflower, corn and cottonseed oils), saturated fats and trans fats. Maximise your intake of omega-3 fats, especially from oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, lake trout and herring).

7. Minimise exposure to oestrogens and xeno-oestrogens - Do not take oestrogens unless medically required, indicated and prescribed by your doctor. This is because lifetime exposure to oestrogen plays a fundamental role in the development of breast cancer. Also avoid oestrogen-like compounds found in environmental pollutants, such as pesticides and industrial chemicals.

Things all women should know about breast cancer

  • Cancer tends to run in families. The risk for cancer increases for a person if one or more of his family members suffer from the disease.
  • Genetic predisposition that is, a person may carry genes that make certain normal cells cancerous.
  • Women who begin menstruating before the age of 12 years or stop after 55 years are more at risk for developing breast cancer.
  • Women who have not borne children or have had children late in their life (usually after the age of 30 years) are also more at risk. 
  • Obesity or overweight is a condition that is associated with higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Other factors like excessive drinking of alcohol and lack of exercise are also risk factors for breast cancer.
  • Environmental factors like exposure to harmful radiation, cigarette smoke over a long period of time and pesticides also raises the risk.
  • In some cases, women who undergo hormone replacement therapy are at a higher risk of cancer of the breast.

Monday, 07 March 2011
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