Who cares about cancer?
Awareness and preventive measures go a long way in combating breast cancer
IT'S YOUR HEALTH And it's in your hands
When Janaki walked in on her mother Jalaja changing, she was horrified to see a large lump on her chest. She forced her mother to the doctor and the diagnosis was devastating breast cancer. Out of embarrassment, fear, ignorance and excruciating shyness, Jalaja had not told anyone about it.
There are many Jalajas out there who would rather die than talk about something as intimate as abnormalities on their breasts. And that has to change.
What is breast cancer?
An abnormal or uncontrolled growth of cells in the breast forms a lump.
This occurs in the area of the breast or in the armpit area and could be malignant. It is advisable to consult a doctor immediately on detecting a lump. While all lumps are not cancerous, only a clinical test can tell the difference. Early detection is the best form of prevention.
What are the symptoms?
A lump in the breast or surrounding area
Skin irritation, discolouration and inflammation
Pain or retraction of the nipple
Discharge from the nipple
What are the tests to detect breast cancer?
Mammogram: It is a special kind of X-Ray where the breast is pressed between two plates. A radiologist interprets the results. A mammogram can detect a lump before it can be physically detected. The chances of effecting a cure are much better when the lump is small. The entire procedure takes not more than 15 minutes. The mammogram is normally a painless procedure.
Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC): If the mammogram reveals any abnormality, then FNAC is undertaken. This involves the insertion of a thin needle into the lump to withdraw fluid from it. This is tested for cancer. The FNAC has the same discomfort factor as an injection. If the FNAC turns up negative, then a Trucut biopsy is undertaken. If that is also inconclusive, then Excision biopsy is done.
Early detection is the key. Breast self-examination should start at the age of 18. Early detection means one can avoid the trauma of having the breast removed (mastectomy). Surgery and radiation and chemotherapy with their attendant discomforts can also be avoided.
Sadly, there is no systematic screening programme for breast cancer in our country. For example, the American Cancer Society Guidelines says all women over 40 should have annual mammogram and clinical examination. However, here, even access to a mammogram is difficult.
Mammograms do not spread cancer
While you are at higher risk of having breast cancer if any of your first degree relatives (grandmother, mother, sister) have had cancer, it is not necessary that you will get cancer.
However, it is advised that you should have a mammogram five years before the age of their diagnosis.
Breast cancer is not a communicable disease
(Information for the article came from Dr. N.R. Tulasi, Head of Department, Radiation, Oncology, GKNM Hospital, Coimbatore; Dr. P. Guhan, Dean, Oncology Department Ramakrishna Hospital, Coimbatore and the Coimbatore Cancer Foundation.)
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