Every year more than 40,000 women in Pakistan die of breast cancer. It is one of the foremost killers of women in South Asia as well. It’s not because South Asian women have some genetic predisposition towards it – it’s actually due to a lack of awareness and action. The disease is not brought in for diagnosis until it is too late, usually. Societal taboos, lack of immediate access to health care, financial limitations, and even plain ignorance about the state of your own health are some of the obstacles women experience with breast cancer. Women risk their life by not getting themselves examined regularly. Knowing how to detect and prevent the disease is a weapon worth having in your arsenal. Here’s everything you need to know.
1. It Is The Most Common Cancer Amongst Women
Women around the world are affected the most by breast cancer, over all other types of cancer. One in eight women are likely to be diagnosed with this kind of cancer at some point in their lives. In Asia, the highest rate of breast cancer is in Pakistan.
2. Breast Cancer Is Not A Single Disease
Breast cancer is not just one disease. There are actually several types of it, such as HER2-positive, estrogen-positive, triple-negative, invasive, non-invasive, and inflammatory breast cancer. All these cancers grow in different parts of the breasts and are treated differently, depending on the nature of their aggressiveness.
3. Know The Risks
The two major risks of developing breast cancer are a) being a woman and b) getting older. Though older women are more at risk of becoming affected, younger women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. Along with natural risk factors, smoking, and an excessive intake of alcohol can increase the chances of developing the disease among young women.
4. Early Detection Can Save Your Life
Detecting breast cancer at an early stage increases the chances of survival by more than 90%. Women under 40 should perform breast self examination every month, and those over the age of 40 should get yearly mammography screening.
5. Don’t Panic After A Mammogram
You may get called in for a follow up for a mammogram, but that’s nothing to be worried about. It usually happens for women over 40, generally because of calcium deposits in their breasts. These are benign, but appear as white spots on a mammogram. Lumps do not always form because of cancer. They are usually caused by cysts, benign tumours, or changes in consistency of the menstrual cycle.
6. Family History Isn’t Always A Risk Factor
Contrary to popular belief, very few cases of breast cancer are hereditary. Statistics prove only 5% of breast cancer is a result of inheriting an altered gene. Having said that, it is a factor to look out for. Your risk is doubled if you have one first degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) with breast cancer, and with two first degree relatives, your risk is five times higher than the average. Consult your doctor regarding the gene test.
7. Dense Breast Tissue Is An Alarming Factor
Having dense breast tissue is an anomaly that should not to be ignored. According to research it increases the chances of developing breast cancer by six times. Density has nothing to do with breast size. It is the ratio of fibrous to fatty tissue inside. Because of high breast density, malignancies can possibly go undetected on a mammography and you may need to undergo screenings like breast MRI, or an ultrasound for better information.
8. Exercise Can Lower The Risk
American Cancer Society’s research proved exercising regularly at a moderate or intense level for seven hours per week can reduce the risk of getting breast cancer. You don’t have to be a gym freak! Even mild physical activities after menopause can prevent you from developing breast cancer.
9. Increasing Vitamin D
Women with Vitamin D deficiencies have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. According to experts, vitamin D may control normal breast cell growth and be able to stop breast cancer from growing. Therefore, it is important to get your levels checked by a physician annually and take the required supplements.
10. The Treatment Has Advanced
Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not necessarily the end of the world. The massive medical improvements in the past few decades such as lumpectomy, mastectomy, double mastectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy all are effective solutions for breast cancer patients. Discuss your options with your doctor, but be calm in the knowledge that there are many options for treatment.