Your breast cancer prevention list

The breast self-exam is out. (You weren’t doing it anyway, were you?) The mammogram is to be used sparingly. You need to watch your WHR (waist-hip ratio) more than your BMI (body mass index). Every October aka Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you’ll read new research about the disease that might confuse, worry or alarm you. Of all cancers, this on is the most common and deadly for women in India. But precisely because it’s an old enemy, we’re getting smarter about it as well. A study published last year, ‘The Global Burden of Cancer 2013’, has found that while the incidence of cancer is rising globally, mortality is falling thanks to early detection and cutting-edge treatment.

Detect it by talking to your doc

While you should stay alert to changes in your breasts, the decision on whether you need more intensive screenings and how often can only be determined by your doctor on the basis of your age, genetics and your personal and family history with radiation and breast cancer. Mammograms or X-rays of the breast are still the most effective tool in early diagnosis and researchers at American hospital Houston Methodist have come up with an artificial intelligence software that can quickly parse mammography and pathology reports and accurately interpret cancer risk. If it goes mainstream, this technology can catch tumours before they spread and reduce the need for painful biopsies.

Prevent it by doing crunches

A study by Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai has shown a clear link between abdominal or central obesity and breast cancer, across ages. A high waist-to-hip ratio or a waist measuring over 80cm (31 inches) puts you at a higher risk.Researchers believe this might be because obesity causes inflammation in the body, which increases the influence of oestrogen, a hormone that stimulates certain breast cancers. Girls who put on weight between the ages of 10 and 20 are particularly susceptible. The good news? You can cut your risk just by getting more active.

Treat it by exploring your options

Early-stage breast cancer patients with a low genetic risk of the cancer recurring might not need chemotherapy at all, reports a study in The New England Journal of Medicine. A genomic test called Mamma Print helps figure out how likely the disease is to recur in 10 years’ time and doctors can decide the course of treatment accordingly. Cancer drugs too might get more efficient in the future. Biomedical scientists at the Australian National University are studying a protein found in human cells that’s been linked to breast cancer. Drugs that target this protein could hold the key to effective and safe treatment.

Know your normal

The breast self-exam (BSE) is no longer considered as crucial for early detection as it once was. Family history, genetics and mammograms are much more reliable markers to go by. But the BSE is still a good way to get acquainted with your girls, so do occasionally check in. After all, if you don’t know what normal looks like, how will you see the red flags. Here’s what you’re looking for…

Symmetrical: Stand in front of a mirror and take a good look. Does one breast look bigger than the other? More than the usual?

Smooth: Examine the skin on the breasts and nipples. Any new puckering, dimpling, flaking or redness? Any tenderness or pain? Are the nipples inverted or oozing?

Soft: Lift an arm and start feeling from the armpit downwards, along the line of your breasts, and towards your rib cage. Feel around your breast and then over it in a circle, softly kneading in an up down motion. Notice any bumps, knots or welts?

If you notice anything new, don’t panic and don’t get on Google, just make an appointment with your doctor. Mastitis, fibrosis, cysts and fat necrosis are all conditions that can cause changes in your breast, but are benign and treatable.


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