Breast cancer awareness is a vital initiative, challenging societal taboos and dispelling myths. During an interview with Dr Bhavika Kothari, we delved into the crucial topic of breast cancer awareness in India. This initiative plays a pivotal role in challenging societal taboos and dispelling myths surrounding the disease.
Dr Bhavika Kothari, a graduate from Mumbai with a Master’s Degree in General Surgery from Mangalore, embarked on a specialized journey in Breast Oncosurgery at Tata Memorial Hospital. Her dedication is rooted in the pressing need to educate women and men about breast cancer, a topic often shrouded in silence.
As a Consultant Breast Oncosurgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital, Dr. Kothari fervently advocates for early detection, underscoring the importance of breaking barriers and fostering open conversations about this critical health issue.
ELLE: What lifestyle choices can individuals make to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer?
Dr Bhavika Kothari: Breast cancer can occur due to genetic or environmental factors, the latter being within our control. I strongly encourage individuals to be physically active, steer clear of smoking and avoid fatty food.
Various lifestyle choices can also influence the risk of breast cancer in an individual:
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer.
- Pregnancy above 30 years of age have a 2-5-fold higher risk.
- Long-term use of combined Hormone-replacement therapy can increase the risk.
- The risk is elevated for those who initiate the use of oral contraceptives, especially tri-phasic pills, at an early age and continue for an extended period.
- Annual self-examination can significantly improve early detection.
ELLE: What are the most common misconceptions about breast cancer that you encounter in your practice?
Dr BK: The most common myths I come across in my practice are that
- Breast Cancer is painful: It usually presents as a painless lump. Therefore, we often find people presenting late to us as a painless lump was not a concerning factor to them.
- Lingerie: Wearing certain types of lingerie i.e. underwire bras, and padded bras can cause breast cancer. This is false.
- Breast cancer affects only women: While it is most common in women, it can occur in men as well, often more aggressively.
- Affects only older women: While the risk of breast cancer does increase with age, it can affect women of all ages, including those in their 20s and 30s.
- No Family History/Genetic Mutation, No Risk: While having a family history of breast cancer can increase your risk, the majority of people with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. It can occur even in the absence of BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations.
- Breast lump is always cancerous: All breast lumps may not be malignant. They commonly can be benign growths which can be easily managed.
- Breast cancer is not curable: With advancements in early detection and treatment, many people with breast cancer can go on to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Survival rates have significantly improved over the years.
ELLE: How important is early detection, and what can women do to detect breast cancer in its early stages? Are there specific signs or symptoms that women should be vigilant about, aside from regular screenings?
Dr BK: Early detection is key in managing breast cancer. When detected early it is completely curable. For individuals with a family history or genetic predisposition, the journey begins with proactive measures like screening mammography.
Meanwhile, for those not considered high-risk, the regular practice of breast self-examination, guided by healthcare providers is of paramount importance.
The presence of a lump in the breast or underarms, alterations in breast size, nipple discharge, skin dimpling, or ulceration are among the typical indications that warrant a consultation with a medical professional.
ELLE: Could you suggest a few NGOs that provide support and aid for individuals battling breast cancer?
- Madat Trust
- Indian Cancer Society
- The Pink Initiative
- Gunwanti Kapoor Foundation
- Unnikrishnan Trust
- NAG Foundation
- Maina Foundation
- Cancer patients aid association (CPAA)
These are a select few from an exhaustive list of organizations willing to help patients battle breast cancer. These organizations rely on donations, and volunteers to carry out their mission. Reaching out to these NGOs could be a meaningful way to contribute to the breast cancer community and support their cause.
ELLE: How can individuals support loved ones who are going through breast cancer treatment or recovery?
Dr BK: We need to understand the effect cancer has on an individual. Not only does it take a mental toll on an individual; the side-effects associated with their treatment can push one to their limit.
In these situations, the family members need to educate themselves about breast cancer, symptoms and treatment. This will enable them to provide the emotional and physical support that is necessary to help their loved ones.
There are groups of breast cancer survivors who generously share their experiences and educate patients about the practical aspects of surviving breast cancer. Joining these support groups and engaging in conversations with survivors plays a huge role in maintaining the morale of patients.
Emphasis on maintaining a regular lifestyle is of utmost importance. Furthermore, encouraging patients to accept the side effects of breast cancer treatment can go a long way in helping them fight the disease.