A healthy lifestyle brings a wave of wellness throughout our lifespan, and in particular, keeps several illnesses and diseases at bay. While this is a mantra that health experts have always been chanting tirelessly, there is still a lack of understanding of the real impact of maintaining an undisciplined life. Dr. Priya Tiwari points out important signs and risk factors and discusses ways to prevent and detect breast cancer early for a better prognosis.
In your opinion, what are some of the leading risk factors of breast cancer?
- Incidence of breast cancer rises with increasing age
- Early menarche (the first instance of menstruation) and delayed menopause
- Alcohol intake – even a small amount is harmful
- Being overweight or obese
- Hormone replacement therapy in the postmenopausal group: combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer
- Oral contraceptive usage, especially after 35 years
- Positive family history
At what age should women, or men, start examining themselves to check for signs of any malignant lumps?
In females, breast self-examination should be started at 21 years, done once a month. It should be done several days after menstrual cycles so that any period-related changes in the breast will subside by then. Clinical breast examination should be done between the ages of 20 and 39, once in three years, by a trained health professional. And above 40 years, annually. A mammogram should be done once a year between the age group of 45-55 years. Above 55, it can be done once every two years.
There is no screening recommendation in males as breast cancer is rare though it does occur.
What lifestyle changes do you recommend women to consider in order to reduce the risk of breast cancer?
- Exercise at least five days a week for half an hour. Moderate intensity aerobic exercises such as a brisk walk or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise in a week
- Consume a diet focussed on plant-based foods
- Avoid processed meat and red meat
- Avoid alcohol and smoking
- Take an early dinner, the best practise is to dine before 9PM, or at least two hours before bedtime decreases the risk of breast cancer
- Avoid oral contraceptive pills, especially if above 35 years of age
- For women who have attained menopause (cessation of menstrual cycles), if you plan to start hormonal replacement therapy then you should discuss the issue in detail with the doctor before starting the procedure and it should be given only for short durations for symptoms necessitating its usage.
Is there a test to determine if someone is at risk of having breast cancer?
There are blood tests that can test for genetic defects predisposing for breast cancer (for eg: BRCA gene mutation test). These tests are being performed by several laboratories across the country and they help us determine the risk for breast cancer for women with a family history of breast cancer.
How can one know if they have a family risk of breast cancer?
About 5 – 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, caused by abnormal genes passed from parent to child.
There are certain pointers that can tell if there is a genetic syndrome responsible for cancer.
- If there is a history of both breast and ovarian cancer in the family.
- If there is any history of more than one cancer (three or more) in the family.
- If there is any history of bilateral breast cancer in one individual.
- If there is a history of male breast cancer in the family.
- If there is an occurrence of breast cancer in anyone young, especially below 50 years.