Breast cancer among women is increasing. Along with it, cancers of the endometrium and ovary are also on the rise. With early detection being crucial, doctors reiterate the need for breast examination, prompt identification of abnormalities and screening for women.
Among the factors that are putting women at risk is a sedentary lifestyle, changes in food habits and stress, experts said. Unlike in the past, breast cancer has overtaken cervical cancer in Chennai. “Till 2002-2003, cervical cancer was the top cancer affecting women. Breast cancer has gradually increased, and now, it affects them the most,” said V. Shanta, chairman of the Cancer Institute, Adyar. She pointed out that as the rate of breast cancer goes up, the occurrence of endometrial and ovarian cancers have increased too.
Studies by the institute found that with better literacy level, incidence of cervical cancer had dropped. She said breast cancer was very clearly related to education.
“We found that as education level improved, cervical cancer declined due to better awareness on hygiene such as use of sanitary pads during menstruation. While we cannot pinpoint an answer on why breast cancer went up with education, we do know that education meant higher socio-economic status and that resulted in lifestyle changes,” she said.
Sedentary lifestyle and changes in type of food consumed played a key role. “Eating junk food leads to obesity. Both obesity and sedentary lifestyle are risk factors,” Dr. Shanta said.
Increase in stress levels could increase the risk of breast cancer in women, especially in younger women, added K. Kalaichelvi, professor and head, Department of Medical Oncology, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital.
“There are modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors, the latter being genetic constitution. Women can get married early, have children early and breastfeed their babies. They should modify their diet, and exercise. They should consume food rich in fibre, less in carbohydrates and fat, and plenty of minerals,” Dr. Kalaichelvi said. Self-examination of breast should start from the age of 25, and screening from 40 years, she added.
Though the percentage of women seeking medical help early has improved over the years, it is still not sufficient, Dr. Shanta pointed out.
“Ten years ago, 60% to 70% women came in late. Today, this is about 30% to 40%. This has improved, but not sufficiently. We still have a lot of advanced cases. People do not understand cancer and associate it with pain. Pain is not the first symptom of cancer, and often, it is the late symptom,” she said. Dr. Shanta said that 90% of women would go to a gynaecologist/obstetrician at some point in time.
“A gynaecological examination and breast examination should be done. Women should seek medical advice for any inter-menstrual bleeding, spotting, post-coital bleeding, and abnormal bleeding. Lumps on the breast and nipple discharge should be noticed,” she said.
There can be no better ambassadors than breast cancer survivors, she said, adding that they should pass on the message of early detection.