Women and Cancer

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Breast cancer is a disease where cells in the breast tissue divide and grow without the normal control. Approximately every 3 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately every 12 minutes breast cancer claims another life. 70% of breast cancer cases occur in women who have no identifiable risk factors. No matter what age you are now, or what generation you belong to, it’s not too early or too late to raise awareness and take steps to avoid this disease.

Invasive breast cancer- In this, the cancer cells break out from inside the lobules or ducts and invade nearby tissues. These abnormal cells can reach the lymph nodes, and eventually make way to the other organs, such as bones, livers or lungs.

Non-invasive breast cancer- In this ,the cancerous cells do  not break free from their place of origin. It is in-situ, that is, in its original place.

Factors that increase the risk:

1. Family History: If your mother, sister, or daughter has developed breast cancer before menopause, you are three times more likely to develop the disease. Recently, scientists have found that mutations in genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase one’s susceptibility to breast cancer. A simple blood test can tell you if you have such a condition

2. Personal History : If you’ve had breast cancer, you have an increased risk of getting it again. Also, if you’ve had benign breast disease (e.g., fibrocystic breast disease), you are at an increased risk.

The following also put you at greater risk:

  • If you began menstruating early (before age 12) and if you have menopause at 55 or older. This is because your body has been exposed to estrogen for longer. Estrogen exposure begins when periods start and drops dramatically during the menopause.
  • If you take birth control pills (though evidence is not conclusive)

3. Additional Risk Factors:

  • If you never have children
  • If you have children when you are 30 or older
  • If you take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
  • Higher estrogen levels are strongly linked with susceptibility to breast cancer.

4. Lifestyle: Several studies found a lower incidence of breast cancer among women who exercise regularly. There is increased risk of breast cancer with increased alcohol use, perhaps due to the fact that alcohol increases blood estrogen levels.


Some popular myths busted:

  1. Women under 40 don’t get breast cancer. It’s true that the risk of developing breast cancer is higher when above 40, but the fact is that women of all ages are at risk
  2. Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer. Till now, no specific cause-and-effect relationship has been established, so it remains a myth
  3. Underwire bras can cause breast cancer-False
  4. A mastectomy is the only treatment for breast cancer: there’s chemotherapy and radiation therapy. So mastectomy is not the only option
  5. Having mammograms yearly will expose you to radiation which in turn causes breast cancer-False
  6. Breast Cancer in incurable: it is curable if detected at an early stage. If detected in an advanced stage, it can be controlled if not cured


 6 steps that make a difference:

  1. Watch out for weight gain. Women who have gained between 10-20kgs since age 18, have 40% increased risk of breast cancer. This is because arise in the overall body fat is tied to an increase in the circulating insulin and estrogen levels-both of which are linked to cancer risks.
  2. Avoid excess hormones. Most women are aware that hormone therapy has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Birth control pills also make you more vulnerable.
  3. Refrain from drinking. The more alcohol you consume, the greater your odds of getting breast cancer-possibly because it raises the estrogen levels.
  4. Regular mammograms. Doctors advice women to have mammograms every 1-2 years in their 40s, then yearly starting at 50.
  5. Physical activity. Being physically active could be the best thing you can do to protect your health. Regular exercise and physical activity not only helps to control your weight but also acts directly on body chemistry to lower levels of circulating insulin and estrogen. Researchers have found that regular exercise could help reduce disease recurrence by 24%, breast cancer deaths by 34 % and overall deaths by 41%.
  6. Do it yourself. Women in their 40s and above should do regular at-home check-ups for breast cancer.


The best time to do breast self-exam is right after your period, when breasts are not tender or swollen. If you do not have regular periods or sometimes skip a month, do it on the same day every month. Look for-lumps, hard knots, swelling, warmth, redness or darkening; Change in the size or shape of nipple or breast; Dimpling or puckering of the skin; Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple; Nipple discharge that starts suddenly; New pain in one spot that does not go away; Pain or tenderness not associated with menstrual cycle. Remember, if something is found, don’t ignore them, most signs and symptoms are harmless but they still need to be checked. The doctor needs to determine if a problem exists.

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