The power of three

The power of three

Breast cancer can be controlled if detected at an early stage. All it takes is three minutes and three fingers to ensure that you haven’t missed out on any telling signs, informs Dr Pawan Gupta.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women all over India and accounts for 25-31 percent of all cancers in women in Indian cities.

About 40 percent of women will discover a breast lump at some point in their lives.

Although a lump doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, what women do immediately after that discovery can make the difference between survival and not.

It is important to see your doctor if you detect any lumps or other abnormalities in your breast.

Lumps and bumps are normal in every breast. You need to know ‘what is normal’ for you and be aware of changes.

In India, approximately 40 percent of breast cancers are first diagnosed at Stage IV.

Stage IV means the cancer has already spread from the breast to other organs in the body, such as the bones or lungs.

While there is currently no cure for Stage IV breast cancer, in many cases, the cancer can be manageable with treatment for many years.

Early detection can improve the prognosis for survival in most cases.

It is important to provide women with knowledge about their own body so that they seek medical advice at the right time.

With early detection, not only do chances for survival improve, but the individual can preserve her breast and avoid chemotherapy, too.

What is the “three minutes, three fingers once in 30 days test?”

Early detection is a woman’s best protection. It just takes three minutes to examine each breast.

Three minutes: Look, feel and check.
Three fingers: You feel your breast with three fingers.
30 days: You need to check your breast only once a month.

Most breast cancers are detected by the woman herself.

The ‘three minutes, three fingers’ campaign intends to empower every lady to practise self breast-awareness from the age of 20 years to notice any new abnormality in the breast.

Here are the changes one should look for:

Development of a lump or swelling
Skin irritation or dimpling
Nipple pain or retraction (turning
inward)
Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk (you may observe staining on your sheets or bra). Clear fluid is more worrisome than bloody, green or blackish fluid
Dilation of the pores in only one area of skin on your breast that may have an
orange peel appearance

If you find even a small change, call your doctor or healthcare provider.

Remember, most of the times, these changes in your breast are not cancer.

Your doctor may arrange for you to visit her /him first for a clinical breast exam or have you go directly for diagnostic evaluation in a breast-imaging facility prior to seeing you.

A woman is at an increased risk of breast cancer:

As she ages. Risk increases across all ages until approximately 80 years
Has certain inherited genetic mutations for breast cancer (BRCA1 and /BRCA2)
Has dense breast tissue as determined by a radiologist when reading her mammogram
Has two or more first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter, father or brother) diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age

There’s also a minor risk for breast cancer if the woman:

Has had no biological children
Had her first child after age 30
Never breastfed a child
Reached menopause after age 55
Had her first period before age 12
Drinks more than one alcoholic beverage per day
Gained significant weight after menopause
Used menopausal hormone replacement therapy (in particular HRT containing both estrogen /progestin hormones)

While you can’t change many known risk factors for breast cancer (being female, one’s age, family history), you can modify your lifestyle to reduce at least some of the risks, such as:

Postmenopausal obesity
Weight gain as an adult (especially in your 40s and 50s)
Use of HRT containing both estrogen /progestin hormones
Maintaining a sedentary lifestyle
Cigarette smoking
Alcohol consumption

(The author is associate director, surgical oncology, Jaypee Hospital, Noida)

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