Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting Indian women. Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Most breast cancers (8 out of 10) occur in women who are over the age of 50. Nearly half of all cases are diagnosed in people in the 50–69 age groups. Woman’s Era interacted with Dr. Shilpa Lad Consultant in Breast Imaging and Intervention Division at NM Medical Centres for Mumbai and Pune, regarding new treatments of Breast Cancer as well as importance of early diagnosis.
Woman’s Era: How can a woman prevent the development of breast cancer?
Dr. Shilpa Lad: Breast cancer is on the rise and it is the most common cancer amongst urban Indian women. To prevent such a situation there are some basic details that woman can keep a check on in their daily routine. Keep Weight in Check, Be Physically Active, Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables – and Avoid Too Much Alcohol, Don’t Smoke, Find out Your Family History and mainly Don’t Forget Screening.
Woman’s Era: What is the definition of a young woman in the context of breast cancer?
Dr. Shilpa Lad: Age is an established risk factor for breast cancer. Younger women usually don’t think about it. But it can happen at any age, and it’s important to be aware of your risk factors, regardless of your age. An increasing numbers of patients are in the 25 to 40 years of age, and this definitely is a very disturbing trend.
Woman’s Era: What are the unique issues facing these younger women diagnosed with breast cancer?
SL : Some of the issues faced by young women undergoing diagnosis/treatment for breast cancers are career related. Many young women are diagnosed in the throes of their career. The constant hospital visits for surgery, scans, blood tests and treatments and the resulting side effects and recovery times make it almost impossible to continue a 9-5 job, let alone put in the additional hours. There are also other lingering side effects that continue long after treatment has finished, such as extreme fatigue and “chemo-brain” (cognitive impairment as a result of chemo that can make your head feel really foggy and affect your memory and ability to concentrate which is extremely frustrating) that can make it almost impossible to perform like before. With the pressure on young women to prove themselves, this creates a huge hurdle and can lead to financial issues.
You get straight into hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, mood swings, anxiety, weight gain and dryness. Rather than being eased into menopause over many, many years, our hormones are prematurely turned off and the result can be extreme. And since the plan is to lower oestrogen as much as possible, it is difficult to take hormone replacement therapies (HRT) or natural remedies, and we are often left to just deal with it.
Body issues occur regardless of our age, but are fewer in 30s than in my 20s and teens. The younger you are, the more you don’t want to be seen as “different” and many are single and have yet to meet their life partner. To be left “one-boobed,” overweight and scarred can severely knock the confidence in many young women.
WE: Do young mothers want to get genetic testing for their daughters
SL : Breast Health Awareness implies that women should be aware of the common symptoms of breast cancer such as painless palpable lump in the breast or underarm, nipple inversion, spontaneous bloody or clear nipple discharge, change in size of breast or skin dimpling. Typically, there is no pain associated with breast cancer. Therefore, women often do not realise these symptoms until it is too late.
If a woman experiences any of the above symptoms, she should immediately consult her physician and undergo a diagnostic mammogram which is a specialised X-ray of the breast. If the mammogram is abnormal the radiologist will recommend a breast ultrasound for further characterisation of the mammography abnormality followed by imaging guided breast biopsy for accurate pathology diagnosis of breast cancer or in simple words confirming the diagnosis of breast cancer.
Women with a strong family history of cancer can take special steps to protect themselves, so it’s important for women to know their family history. You may be at high risk of breast cancer if you have a mother or sister who developed breast or ovarian cancer especially at an early age or if you have multiple family members (including males) who developed breast, ovarian or prostate cancer. A doctor or genetic counsellor can help you understand your family history of the disease. Hence it is always advised in such cases that young mothers should get genetic testing so that if it is diagnosed then can be cured at an early.