October is breast cancer awareness month, and there are numerous activities worldwide centered around this alarming concern for women. According to WHO reports, 1.38 cases are recorded every day, and there are 458,000 deaths from breast cancer every year. It is the most common cancer amongst women. As a result, there are countless campaigns aimed at generating awareness and raising funds to conduct further research.
Though most diagnosed patients are above the age of 50, having already been through menopause, many young women are also at risk. While family history and genetic mutations are common causes of breast cancer, there are certain lifestyle factors that can also make a woman more susceptible. The use of birth control pills, hormone therapy after menopause, lack or absence of physical activity, indulgence in alcohol, smoking, and obesity can all potentially make you more vulnerable to breast cancer.
How Can Early Diagnosis Help Breast Cancer Patients?
Increased awareness of breast cancer can help pave the way for early diagnosis, if not prevention. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the most rampant form of breast cancer, wherein there is an abnormal growth of cells, but these are not malignant. Early diagnosis of breast cancer means patients are more likely to initiate treatment and have a better chance at survival.
On the other hand, delayed treatment for DCIS might lead to further development and spread to the surrounding tissues. If breast cancer gets aggressive, it can get challenging to treat. Thus, it is crucial to diagnose more people at the initial stage.
Detecting Breast Cancer At An Early Stage
Early diagnosis can be done through regular self-breast exams, clinical breast exams, and mammograms. Medical authorities worldwide are taking several measures to promote these methods to identify breast cancer cases before they worsen to more advanced stages. If you don’t have access to well-structured healthcare systems, or if the use of screening methods such as mammograms are too costly, healthcare professionals usually recommend self-checking so that the patient herself can detect signs and symptoms.
Some common symptoms of breast cancer include a lump inside the breast, painful or swollen areas in the breast, nipple discharge other than breast milk, underarm swelling, change in the nipple shape, and abnormalities. However, these do not mandatorily indicate breast cancer but should immediately be reported to your healthcare professional.
- With a self-administered breast exam, you can check if there’s lymph in your breast. Also, keep an eye for any other changes in the shape of the breast or the nipple. Women should conduct these self-checks at home regularly. If you sense something wrong, seek medical help at the earliest.
- A mammogram is a form of X-ray that is meant to detect abnormalities in the breasts. Women who belong to the high-risk group of breast cancer should get this done once a year. This is often accompanied by breast ultrasound, especially for high-risk women on whom MRI cannot be conducted or women with dense breast tissues.
- You can also opt for a breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for screening and get more information about suspicious areas detected through a mammogram or an ultrasound.
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Minimizing The Risk Factors
Let’s take a closer look at what you can do to minimize the risk of breast cancer:
- Maintain a healthy weight and avoid gaining those extra pounds. A healthy diet coupled with physical activity is the mantra.
- Spare some time for exercise, ensuring at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity. A combination of these will also prove to be highly effective.
- Limit your alcohol intake, or better still, try to avoid it altogether. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), women should not have more than one alcoholic drink per day.
In recent years, more women have been cured of breast cancer, thanks to early diagnosis. This is coupled with state-of-the-art treatment options, as well as extensive surgery. Make sure you are perfectly aware of how your breasts usually look and feel so that any changes are easily recognizable.