It’s Pink October, and in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s discuss a few things everyone should know about the disease. 

Breast cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that line the duct and the lobes of the breasts. Men can also develop breast cancer but this accounts for less than 1% of all cases across the world. All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening. If you are genetically prone to developing breast cancer, it is important to talk to your healthcare team regarding any questions you may have.

Listed below are a few commonly asked questions. 

1. What can women do to reduce the risk of breast cancer?

Limiting the occurrence of breast cancer includes developing better lifestyle habits. They include limiting or avoiding the use of alcohol and tobacco, controlling one’s weight, being physically active, and breastfeeding when the need arises. Other external factors that one can avoid are the dosage and duration of hormone therapy and avoiding exposure to UV radiation and strong chemicals.

2. How is breast self-examination done?

A self-examination of the breasts can be done once every month, preferably with the aid of a mirror. Your breasts should feel firm and soft when you are lying down or standing. You can use your right hand to feel the left breast and vice-versa. You can use your fingers to move in small vertical and horizontal motions using slight, medium, and firm pressure until you can identify your rib cage without any interference. If you feel lumps, do not panic. Simply report them to your doctor. You may also look for dimpling, puckering or swelling of breasts. If you find a rash or redness that persists for more than 10 days, it indicates that you need to go get it checked. Raise your arms and notice if there are any signs of fluid in the nipples, or discharge other than milk. 

3. When should I begin screening for breast cancer?

Screening tests are useful in identifying tumors at an early stage so that the treatment can show positive outcomes. Women with a family history, in particular, should be screened with MRIs and mammograms every year.

According to general screening recommendations, women aged between 40 and 44 should have annual screenings if they wish to do so. Women between ages 45 and 54 should get mammograms every year. Those who are 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years or continue yearly screening.

4. What about screening for women who are in their 30s, or younger?

The reason that breast cancer in women in their 30s, or younger, does not have recommended guidelines is that the risks of false positives, unnecessary procedures and potential overdiagnosis outweigh the benefits. However, regardless of your age, regular self-examinations are recommended and you should consult your doctors if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

5. How can I cope with my treatment? 

There are several cancer support groups, both physically present as well as online forums. It is best advised to search for groups in your locality by checking the newspaper or your local community groups. Onco organizes a cancer support group in Bangalore, called Talk Your Heart Out (TYHO) that gathers diverse cancer fighters and supporters to speak about the many aspects of the disease.

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