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October: The Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Dr Zunaira Akram:

World Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated globally in the month of October with the help to increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease. This year the Annual Breast Cancer Awareness campaign began on Monday, 1 October 2018 and will ends on Wednesday, 31 October 2018 with the aim to highlight the importance of breast awareness, education and research, and to get as many people as possible involved in raising awareness and funds for breast cancer awareness.

breast cancerMore of us are being diagnosed with breast cancer than ever before and the disease is still devastating lives on a heartbreaking scale. We can’t live with that and we’re pretty sure you can’t either.

So this month we need your help, more than ever, to take action against breast cancer and create a future where everyone who develops the disease can live – and live well.

Breast Cancer is a condition where a person develops a malignant cancerous tumor that forms in the cells of the breasts. It is the most common invasive cancer in women, and the second main cause of cancer death in women. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it’s far more common in women over 50 year’s age.

About one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. There’s a good chance of recovery if it’s detected in its early stages.

For this reason, it’s vital that women check their breasts regularly for any changes and always get any changes examined by their General Physician.

Causes of breast cancer

The exact causes of breast cancer aren’t fully understood. However, there are certain factors known to increase the risk of breast cancer.

These include:

  • Age – the risk increases as you get older
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • A previous diagnosis of breast cancer
  • A previous benign breast lump
  • Being tall, overweight or obese
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Long-term use of Postmenopausal Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) and /or oral contraceptives.

Watch for your Breast cancer symptoms: Breast cancer can have a number of symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.

breast cancer 2

Most breast lumps aren’t cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by your doctor. You should also see your GP if you notice any of the following:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • Discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

Breast pain isn’t usually a symptom of breast cancer.

Consider your risk: A breast cancer risk factor is anything that makes it more likely you’ll get breast cancer. But having one or even several breast cancer risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop breast cancer. Many women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors other than simply being women.

Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include: Being female, increasing age, a personal history of breast conditions/ breast cancer, a family history of breast cancer, inherited genes that increase cancer risk, having your 1st child after 30years, beginning your period at a younger age or beginning menopause at an older age, obesity, having postmenopausal hormonal replacement therapy, and Radiation exposure.

Get a diagnosis of breast cancer:

Women are usually diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine breast cancer screening, or after detecting certain signs and symptoms and seeing their doctor about them.

breast cancer 3If a woman detects any of the breast cancer signs and symptoms described above, she should speak to her doctor immediately. The doctor, often a primary care physician (general practitioner, GP) initially, will carry out a physical exam, and then refer the patient to a specialist if he/she thinks the further assessment is needed.

During the breast exam, your doctor will check both of your breasts and lymph nodes in your armpit, feeling for any lumps or other abnormalities. If needed he /she will take a mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast usually recommend to a woman with age over 40 years. These mammograms are commonly used to screen for breast cancer. Another screening technique is breast ultrasound. Ultrasound may be used to determine whether a new breast lump is a solid mass or a fluid-filled cyst, and is usually recommend to a young female. If mammogram or ultrasound shows some abnormal changes, your GP recommends a removing a sample of breast cells for testing biopsy. A biopsy is the only definitive way to make a diagnosis of breast cancer. During a biopsy, your doctor uses a specialized needle device guided by X-ray or another imaging test to extract a core of tissue from the suspicious area. Often, a small metal marker is left at the site within your breast so the area can be easily identified on future imaging tests. Your biopsy samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis where experts determine whether the cells are cancerous. A biopsy sample is also analyzed to determine the type of cells involved in the breast cancer, the aggressiveness (grade) of cancer, and whether the cancer cells have hormone receptors or other receptors that may influence your treatment options.

Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is also a technique use to diagnose breast cancer. An MRI machine uses a magnet and radio waves to create pictures of the interior of your breast. Before a breast MRI, you receive an injection of dye. Unlike other types of imaging tests, an MRI doesn’t use radiation to create the images.

Some other tests and procedures may be used depending on your situation.

Breast cancer risk reduction for women with a high risk

Women with a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer may be offered screening and genetic testing for the condition.

As the risk of breast cancer increases with age, all women who are 40 to 70 years old are invited for breast cancer screening through mammogram every three years. Women over the age of 70 are also entitled to screening and can arrange an appointment through their GP or local screening unit. Women under the age of 40 are invited for breast cancer screening through breast ultrasound every three years.

Treating breast cancer

If cancer is detected at an early stage, it can be treated before it spreads to nearby parts of the body.

Breast cancer is treated using a combination of:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • Biological therapy (targeted drug therapy)
  • Hormone therapy

Preventing yourself from breast cancer

As the causes of breast cancer aren’t fully understood, at the moment it’s not possible to know if it can be prevented.

If you’re at increased risk of developing the condition, some treatments are available to reduce the risk.

Studies have looked at the link between breast cancer and diet. Although there are no definite conclusions, there are benefits for women who:

  • Eat Fruits & Vegetable
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Have a low intake of saturated fat and alcohol
  • Don’t Smoke
  • Avoid Birth Control Pills, Particularly After Age 35
  • Don’t Forget Screening

It’s been suggested that regular exercise can reduce your risk of breast cancer by as much as a third. Regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle can also improve the outlook for people affected by breast cancer. If you’ve been through the menopause, it’s particularly important that you’re not overweight or obese. This is because being overweight or obese causes more estrogen to be produced, which can increase the risk of breast cancer.

Facts about Breast Cancer:

  • Early detection of the condition can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis. About 90% of patients survive for many years after diagnosis when breast cancer is detected at the early stages.
  • Regular self-breast examination and regular mammograms are key to early detection.
  • Presenting yourself early for treatment may result in more effective treatment, leading to a reduction in pain and suffering and a significant decrease in the loss of life.

The designation of October as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” in Pakistan reflects a nationwide drive by public and private healthcare structures to raise awareness of this debilitating disease across all races and class structures.


You are the way we change things. If someone isn’t feeling well, you encourage them to seek help. Encourage your friends and family members to get mammograms

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