World Cancer Day 2024: Breast cancer has emerged as a major public health concern among women in India. Experts have emphasised the importance of addressing the health crisis due to alarming increases in incidence and mortality rates. Annually, approximately 1.6 to 2.0 million new cases of breast cancer are reported. Unfortunately, many cases may go unreported, exacerbating the situation.
Breast cancer: Why do Indian women have high mortality rate?
1. The advanced stage at which the majority of Indian women seek treatment is a significant contributor to the high mortality rate. Unlike in Western countries, where early detection is more common, nearly half of Indian patients present in advanced stages, with 25% already having metastatic disease. Early detection significantly improves survival rates, highlighting the importance of increased awareness and screening programmes.
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2. Genetic mutations, particularly those in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, play an important role in the early-onset cases seen in India. Women who carry these mutations frequently develop cancer at a young age and may have a family history of the disease. Seeking genetic counselling, getting BRCA mutation testing, and going to regular screenings are all important steps towards early detection and better outcomes.
3. Lifestyle and environmental factors also contribute to an increase in breast cancer cases. Early puberty, delayed pregnancies, shorter lactation periods, stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, and exposure to pollutants all increase the risk. Obesity, with its associated elevated oestrogen levels, increases the risk of breast cancer.
4. Other common causes of breast cancer include increasing age, a family history of cancer, obesity, alcohol consumption, early menarche and late menopause, late age of first childbirth or no children, an unhealthy diet, radiation exposure, and so on.
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Breast Cancer: Symptoms one must never ignore
Extraordinary lump or swelling
It can appear as new lumps or swelling in various body areas. It may affect not only the breasts, but also the neck, underarms, collarbone, and other areas. Any unusual growths or swelling should be closely examined because they could be early indicators of breast cancer. Inverted nipples are also a clear indicator of breast cancer. A typical breast lump is one that remains unmoved when touched.
Rapid weight loss and appetite loss
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Sudden weight loss and a lack of appetite may indicate an underlying health issue, such as metastatic breast cancer.
Unexplained night sweats could be one of the symptoms of breast cancer. This could happen as a result of your body’s attempts to combat the disease. Hormone changes could be to blame. When cancer causes a fever, your body may sweat excessively in order to cool itself.
Difficulty breathing and chest pain
Breast metastasis can lead to chest pain and difficulty breathing. If you experience any unprovoked chest discomfort, wheezing, or persistent shortness of breath, seek medical attention immediately. However, this only occurs after the cancer has spread to other parts.
Persistent pain without an explanation
Breast cancer pain can be chronic and difficult to manage with over-the-counter medications. Aches and pains can be felt in specific areas, such as the bones, joints, back, or pelvis.
Constant fatigue and weakness
Even after getting enough rest, feeling constantly weak and exhausted could be a sign of metastatic breast cancer. It is critical to distinguish between occasional fatigue and a persistent feeling of exhaustion that does not subside with adequate rest.
Breast cancer can spread to the brain, causing various neurological symptoms. Examples include frequent headaches, seizures, balance or coordination issues, memory problems, and changes in vision or speech.
Breast Cancer: Prevention
Changes in lifestyle, stress reduction, exercise, a healthy diet, and timely family planning are all key prevention strategies. Encourage women to consider childbirth at a younger age, prioritise fitness, and promote adequate lactation to reduce risk factors. For those with a family history of breast or related cancers, seeing a genetic counsellor is essential for individualised treatment.
New mothers must breastfeed their baby for at least a year. Breast cancer risk reduces as you breastfeed for longer periods of time.
Aside from precautionary measures, women should be aware of any changes in the size, colour, discharge, or appearance of their breasts. Regular screening in accordance with guidelines, as well as early detection, should be encouraged to ensure that women do not develop breast cancer.
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