When age is no longer a criterion

Breast cancer

Six months after giving birth to her second son, Raji Bedi noticed a lump around her breast. Initially, family members presumed it was a milk duct, a small, hard lump sore to touch and is commonly associated with breastfeeding. But, it turned out to be cancer tumour.

 “The size of the lump started increasing, and grew bigger in size. Then, during initial diagnosis, the doctor suggested to go for plastic surgery. But after the surgery, infection started spreading to my armpits,” recalls Bedi.

“Later, it was diagnosed as a rare phyllode tumour and I had to go for breast removal (mastectomy),” she adds.

The 34-year-old survivor admits, “It was a very difficult time. I wish, I had done
self-examination before. I would not have been that much startled.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and even though, almost 90 per cent of breast cancer cases occur in women above 50, an increasing number of younger women are being diagnosed with it, especially in urban areas and metropolitan cities.

“Breast cancer has already overtaken cervical cancer to become the leading cause of cancer related deaths in Indian women. Apart from the increasing numbers, the profile of patients and the disease has also changed drastically in recent years,” says Dr Meenu Walia, director medical oncology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj.

According to World Health Organisation, roughly 1,44,937 women in India were detected with breast cancer in 2012 and 70,218 died of it, making it one death for every two new diagnoses. With the incidence of the disease rising by more than 20 per cent
since 2008, India is expected to have 2,00,000 new cases of breast cancer per year by 2030.

“While there is no such comprehensive analysis or study conducted in India, clinical evidence suggests that breast cancer occurrence has increased in relatively younger women and this can also result in genetic cancer syndrome,” says Dr Rajat Saha, consultant, medical oncology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.

The biggest challenge, experts are facing is to spread awareness about breast cancer and inform women about the symptoms so that it can be diagnosed at an early stage. But the thought of “it can’t happen to me” is acting as a major deterrent.

 “The fear of the unknown is there all the time. Unfortunately, women think that it can’t happen to them. If the disease is detected at stage one, there are 97 percent chances of survival. If detected at stage four, it comes down to 23 percent.”

Admits Nidhi, a survivor, who recollects how she wouldn’t pay heed to awareness talks, seminars and videos on breast cancer, presuming it can’t happen at such a young age.
“I had gone to my son’s school once and they had a program on breast cancer awareness. But I did not pay any attention because I was under the impression that cancer can’t happen at such a young age,” Nidhi, who is in early 30s tells Metrolife.

Now she regrets this “callous” attitude and has become more active in educating women about it. She was a part of the vintage car rally ‘Drive to defeat breast cancer’ which happened in the city recently. It was organised by the Forum for Breast Cancer and around 12 survivors supported the cause.

A combination of self and clinical breast examination coupled with mammography is recommended to enable early breast cancer detection. While mammography screening can be highly expensive, it is extremely important for women to keep a close track of any changes occurring in their bodies.

“Any lump in the breast or underarm area, any unusual discharge from the nipple, any change in the shape or size of the breast should be taken note of and immediately reported to a doctor for further examination,” says Dr Manish Singhal, joint secretary NCR Oncology Forum.

He adds, “It is recommended that women perform regular self examination every month after they turn 25, with a clinical breast examination every three years, and annual mammography after the age of 40.”

Another survivor Shruti Sharma says maintaining quality of life post-treatment is essential. “Emotions remain the same in all cases. Whenever there is a diagnosis, especially in case of life-threatening diseases, doctor’s support is essential. Also, remember, cancer is nothing but just a roadblock that can be overcome by knowing your body and seeking advice at the right time.”

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