Breast cancer awareness — 9 easy tips for early detection

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women worldwide. According to a report of World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 162,500 new breast cancer registrations and 87,090 reported deaths in India in 2018. The number is quite alarming. But more scary statistics comes from Cancer India Society. For every 2 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, one woman dies of it in India as per cancer statistics. One among 28 woman in India develops breast cancer. So there is immediate requirement to bring awareness about deadly breast cancer to Indians.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month every year. This year it begins on Friday, 1 October and ends on Sunday, 31 October. It is an annual international campaign to bring awareness about the impact of breast cancer, raise funds for research and lifesaving support. Many hospitals and organizations aim to promote and develop awareness in the public. They emphasize the importance of early detection for the treatment and prevention of deaths. Cancer awareness can also help people in changing to healthier lifestyles.

In 1992, it was Evelyn Lauder and Self magazine which introduced the pink ribbon as their official symbol for breast cancer awareness during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They chose color pink to symbolize the virtuous and blameless aspects of breast cancer and the femininity the disease threatened. It stands for fear of breast cancer and hope for the future. It also represents the charitable people and businesses who publicly support the breast cancer awareness campaign. During this period, people all over the world show their support for everyone affected by breast cancer.

This is the first of a series of blog post in breast cancer awareness. I will be discussing the breast cancer symptoms, who is at risks, diagnosis and prevention of early death. What are the medical technologies available for testing so that people can gain easy access? What is holding back in Indians for lack of awareness or early detection?

With awareness of the different testing options, more people will gain access to screening, and fewer people will die from the disease. Breast cancer awareness can also help people to make healthier lifestyle choices

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that breast cancer accounted for 15% of all cancer deaths in women. On the positive note, the enormous research and development happening in the field of breast cancer has brought a ray of hope in the treatment of the disease. The death rate can be reduced, if the cancer can be detected early.

What is Breast cancer?

Cancer starts when cells of our bodies begin to grow out of control in a short period of time. Cancers occurring in the breast tissues are referred to as Breast Cancer.
Breast cancer is an abnormal, uncontrollable growth of cells that originate from the breast tissue. The cancer cells typically form a tumor that can be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Breast cancer occurs mostly in women, but a small percentage of men can get.

Breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast like the ducts that carry milk to the nipple or in the glands that make milk. It can spread to other parts when the cancerous cells enter the blood stream or lymph system and get carried away.

Causes of Breast cancer or risk factors for Breast cancer

Prevention of breast cancer is far away but there are risk factors which can help in reducing the chances of breast cancer. The risk factors for breast cancer may include

i) genetics and heredity: mutations of genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 can inhibit the body’s ability to safeguard and repair DNA. These genes can be passed on genetically to future generations, leading to a genetically-inherited increased risk of breast cancer. Women who has inherited such genes have higher risk.

ii) early start to menstruation before 11 years,

iii) no pregnancy or after 35 years of age,

iv) use of oral contraception,

v) late menopause after 55 years,

vi) lifestyle: excessive intake of alcohol, smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, stress and poor dietary intake

vii) never breast fed or never had children

viii) a close relative who has had breast cancer or has a family history

ix) medical treatment: chemotherapy, radiation, or immunosuppressive drugs can also cause damage to healthy cells.

These are some of the factors that have been attributed to increase in the risk of breast cancer among the young women.

What are the Breast cancer symptoms

Breast cancer symptoms vary from person to another.

i) A painless lump in the breast or armpit is the most common and the first symptom of breast cancer.

ii) Skin changes: redness, skin thickening, skin nodules, like a flat or indented area of breast or feels like it is being pulled inwards

iii) Breast changes such as a difference in the size, shape, texture, or temperature of the breast

iv) Changes in nipple: feels like flat or pulled inward, dimpled, burns, itches or develops sores

v) Unusual discharge from nipple, it could be blood red, clear or any other colour.

However, some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.

If there are any of these signs and symptoms of breast cancer, consult the breast cancer experts.

Breast Cancer early detection and prevention

Early detection of breast cancer offers the best outcome for survival and quality of life after a person is devastated by getting to know about her illness. A doctor can help in providing to detailed risk assessment and genetic screening for women with family history of breast cancer.

Mammograms are X-rays of the breast that can detect cancer at a very early stage even before they are be felt or noticed. The X-rays capture black-and-white images of the breasts. These images are displayed on a computer screen and examined by a radiologist for signs of cancer.

The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed 3D images of the breast tissue. Just before testing, patients are injected with an intravenous dye solution to distinguish cancerous tissue by colour. The contrast in the MRI image tends to be more concentrated in areas of cancer growth and can be detected by radiologists

Doctors may recommend ultrasound to identify fluid-filled cysts that are not cancerous. Ultrasound may be used for routine screening tests in some women who are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Other methods such as Genetic Screening and Biomarker testing may be required for very risky persons with history of hereditary breast cancer. Counselling for patients with history of familial/hereditary breast cancer is also required.

The easiest way to breast cancer prevention is by doing a self-breast examination. This is highly recommended for women above 30 years of age.

Breast cancer Self Examination

A breast cancer self-examination is a way to check the breasts for changes such as lumps or thickenings by a woman. It is recommended that women be aware of their breasts and notice any changes, rather than performing checks on a regular schedule. Any unusual changes discovered during the breast self-examination should be reported to the expert doctor. It may be lumps in the breasts or armpits, any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples. Doctors will be able to correctly diagnosis when reported. Breast cancer experts believe that performing breast self-exam along with other screening methods can help in early detection. You can conveniently do breast self-exam free of cost on a regular basis and at any age.

Need for Breast Cancer awareness month in 2021

According to According to the American Cancer Society, almost all women who were diagnosed with stage 1 of breast cancer have survived for more than 5 years. So are 93% of those diagnosed with stage 2, the survival rate decreased to 72% of those with stage 3, and 22% of those with stage 4.  With higher stages of cancer growth, the survival rate decreases and more than 50% of Indian women suffer from stage 3 and 4 of breast cancer. It is about 60% survival rate post breast cancer women in India, as compared to 80% in the U.S.

According to some research, there are cultural and religious issues regarding breast cancer awareness like women don’t access health services, are hesitant to consult male doctors, overlook their health due to household commitments and are over-dependent on other family members to seek medical help. All these factors lead to a delay in diagnosis.

In India, even when women are in responsible positions and earning for their families, it’s the men who are generally the head of the household. Even educated professional women do not discuss private matters about their health with the male members of their family. So the health messages of breast cancer should be directed towards men to increase their awareness which may help women open up their problems. Their understanding is essential to enable the female family members to access medical help at the earliest stage.

In India, the survival rates of breast cancer in India are low because the detection takes place late in the 3rd or 4th stage. By increasing awareness there are chances of increasing the survival rate. Please should know that breast cancer is a treatable disease and chances of survival are higher if it’s detected well in time.

Dr. Monica Mehrotra, MBBS, MD in Radiology is a renowned Radiologist in Kanpur. She is the founder and Director of Mehrotra Diagnostic located in Harsh Nagar, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Dr. Monica Mehrotra is highly skilled and experienced in Digital X Ray, Mammography, HSG, and CT Scan. she can be reached at or