(This story has been republished from The Quint's archives in the context of actress Mahima Chaudhry's breast cancer diagnosis.)
In India, for every two women diagnosed with breast cancer, one loses her life.
Nearly a lakh women die of breast cancer every year in India, that’s the highest in any Asian country, twice as much as United States of America, which has an incredibly high incidence of breast cancer.
October is the Breast Cancer Awareness month and we’re inundated with pink. Pink ribbons, pink products, pinkathons, pink monuments, all trying to raise awareness for the scourge that is breast cancer.
Though all the pink-washing has put the disease on the map and the funds in the right place, in terms of ‘cure’ or treatment not much progress has been made in the last five years. And that’s why early detection still remains the key to your survival and a quality life.
Luckily there are some simple things you can do to catch breast cancer early and improve your chances of survival. But first, let’s make sure we have the basics covered:
Age Has Nothing to Do with Breast Cancer
Statistically it is rare for a woman in her early twenties to develop breast cancer but 5 women in around a lakh get it in the age group of 19 to 25.
So watch-out for the following symptoms:
- A new lump or mass in the breast, armpit or base of your neck which doesn’t move away from the wall of the chest. It does not always have to be painful
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
- Swollen lymph nodes around the collar bone or under the arm
Who is at Risk?
It’s a myth that breast cancer is mostly genetic.
More than 75% women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors or genetic history.
So who can get the disease? Anyone with boobs.
Mostly women but men are no exception. 1 in 8 women in urban cities get breast cancer and roughly 1 in 1000 men are at a risk for it. (Source: Tata Memorial Foundation)
The older you get, the more your chances of getting breast cancer. Around 2/3rds of people with the disease are above the age of 45 and the majority of the remaining third are under the age of 35.
1 in every 200 women carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that raises the breast cancer risk by 56 to 85%.
Are You Doing the Self Exam Right?
A monthly self-examination is a must for every woman after the age of 20. A yearly mammogram after the age of 45 is recommended by oncologists.
The best time to do a breast self-exam is a couple of days after your periods so your boobs aren’t tender.
Stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Do your breasts look the same? Or is the skin dimpling or is there an area which looks reddened? Or any nipple changes? Is there discharge when you press your nipples (and you’re not breastfeeding or pregnant) or are your nipples retracted?
Look around the entire breast area for any bumps or lumps that feel different, that weren’t there before or are unusual.
Even if there is a lump, don’t go into a full-blown-freakout mode because this is just an indication of cancer and not a confirmation. So don’t panic and do go to a doctor for further tests.
Your Underwire Bra Has Nothing To Do With Breast Cancer
Here are some reassuring words straight from the American Cancer Society.
We do not know of any epidemiologic studies published in scientific journals that suggest bras directly contribute to breast cancer risk or that lymphatic compression by bras might cause breast cancer.
– American Cancer Society
Another fact to chew on.
If wearing an over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder was linked to an increased risk in breast cancer, statistics would have shown a drop in breast cancer diagnoses in the 60s when most women were burning and going braless. But stats didn’t drop.
So wear your push-ups, underwires, demi cups, and sports bras without fear.