Mass awareness, change in socio-cultural attitudes, lifestyle modifications, self-examination, early screening, proper counselling, and on-time treatment are the need of the hour to save humanity from this dreadful disease
As we all know, nowadays cancer is a global burden and it knows no boundaries. Cancer, known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a broad spectrum of various diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. Cancer is a devastating disease that has baffled researchers over the years. Many investigators have demonstrated that over-expression of receptors and growth factors and the activation of oncogenes and the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes are among the root causes of the development and progression of cancer.
Moreover, dys-functioning of intracellular signaling pathways has also been seen in the development and progression of cancer. During cancer, otherwise, healthy cells break free of normal control mechanisms to acquire sustained proliferation, indefinite replication, and undergo angiogenesis to provide nutrients to support rapidly dividing cells.
Cancer is the second leading cause of morbidity and mortality after cardiovascular diseases in industrialised countries. As per the WHO report 2020, about 19.3 million new cancer cases and 10 million cancer deaths were reported in 2020. Breast cancer has the highest incidence rate among women. Breast cancer has surpassed lung cancer with an estimated 2.3 million new cases (Global Cancer Statistics, 2020). As per WHO in 2020, there were 2.3 million diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 7 lakh deaths were recorded globally. As on the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer. As per ICMR, there are about 1.8 lakh new cases detected every year in India and 86,000 deaths.
What is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. Breast cancer cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too. It’s important to understand that most breast lumps are benign and not cancer (malignant). Non-cancerous breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast. They are not life threatening, but some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care professional to determine if it is benign or malignant (cancer) and if it might affect your future cancer risk. Breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancers). Some start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancers). There are also other types of breast cancer that are less common, like phyllodestumor and angiosarcoma. A small number of cancers start in other tissues in the breast. These cancers are called sarcomas and lymphomas and are not really thought of as breast cancers.
Signs and symptoms of Breast Cancer
A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue; change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast; changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling; a newly inverted nipple, peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin; redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Gene mutations by use of X- ray and UV radiations, prolonged use of oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy after menopause, early menstruation and late menopause, late child bearing, increased breast density, obesity, and use of alcohol and tobacco are the roots causes of breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk increases as a woman gets older, as less physical activity leads to high risk of breast cancer. Obesity also raises the risk of having breast cancer, especially for women after menopause. Previous chest infections and people with personal history of breast cancer develop cancer fast.
How can Breast Cancer be prevented?
Primary control involves self-management. Stay at a healthy weight, be physically active, limit alcohol use, breastfeeding, and by not using hormone therapy to deal with the symptoms of menopause. Other lifestyle modifications are balanced diet, judicious use of microwave, air ventilation of cars exposed to sun, maintaining vitamin D3 levels, and wearing of appropriate sized non-wired bras. Sound sleep and avoiding stress can help in prevention of cancer. Secondary control involves early screening and detection and tertiary control involves clinical intervention. Breast cancer can be diagnosed by Fine Needle Aspiaration Cytology (FNAC) and Biopsy methods.
Self-examination of breasts, clinical breast examination, screening mammogram, USG breast and MRI breast examination. All women older than 20 years should self-examine every month and have clinical breast examination every 2 to 3 years. Women older than 40 years should do clinical yearly examination yearly as well as Mammography.
Treatment of Breast Cancer (Cancer is conquerable as well as curable)
Various treatments are nowadays available for treatment of cancer which includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and biological therapy.
Myths about Breast Cancer
Common myths include: touching the breasts too often will lead to cancer; a bruise on the breast will lead to breast cancer; if an incision is made during breast cancer surgery, the cancer will spread; getting too many mammograms will lead to cancer. So, mass awareness, especially among women, and proper education about breast cancer can help in early screening of breast cancer. Barriers to screening should be stopped, social stigma related to breast cancer should be discouraged, and prompt diagnosis should be encouraged.
—The writer is a research scholar in Cancer Pharmacology. [email protected]