One in every 9 women in Pakistan has a lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer – BMC Public Health
Pakistan has the highest number of breast cancer cases out of all the South Asian countries. Around 40,000 people succumb to this disease every year (Pink Ribbon Pakistan). Why is that so? Did you know what’s the most important thing you must do to protect yourself? Read more to find out.
Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the breast cells when cells start growing uncontrollably. October is observed as Breast Cancer Awareness month worldwide. Yet, in Pakistan, we still have a long way to go to reach a level of awareness that is needed to prevent this life-threatening disease.
This is also the reason why this cancer is not taken very seriously, in a country that, to nobody’s surprise, takes the lead in recording the highest number of cases in comparison to other South Asian countries. Due to this lack of awareness, several cases go undetected in Pakistan and, the women who do get diagnosed, are already in their last stages of cancer and their chances of survival are often slim to none.
However, slowly but surely, things are changing and we are here to do our part. For starters, here are 5 important things you must know about breast cancer.
1. Early Detection Is Key
As they say, prevention is the best cure. For breast cancer, this is actually true in every sense because according to medical experts, early detection can increase your chances of survival to around 90%. Early detection is the most important preventative measure you can take to protect yourself from this disease.
Now, how do you do that, you ask? It is very simple: physical breast examination or self-examination.
This method allows women to take the best (and cheapest) preventative measures in the privacy and comfort of their own homes because many women especially in the rural areas of Pakistan, cannot go for a mammogram because it’s expensive. They cannot openly tell their families that they want one either, due to a lack of awareness. Hence, self-examination is the best option for them.
When should you examine your breasts?
You should self-examine every month immediately after your menstrual period ends when your breasts are usually least tender or one week after your period starts. Besides this, women over the age of 40 are advised to get their mammograms done annually, whereas women under 40 should get their breast examinations and ultrasound done annually.
What should you be looking for?
- Lumps in your breasts or underarms
- Skin flaking, peeling or scaling on nipples or breasts
- Nipple discharge (blood, puss etc)
- Nipple inversion
- Breast Rashes (redness, swelling, enlarged pores, pain and/or itchiness)
Breast rashes are a form of inflammatory breast cancer and are often mistaken and misdiagnosed as a skin infection. Hence, it is important to do your research and get it checked by your doctor to rule out any possibility of cancer.
2. Important Risk Factors For Breast Cancer
Two of the most important risk factors for this cancer are being a woman and increasing age.
People who have a family history of breast cancer are also predisposed to this disease. Although they are advised to adopt a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and refrain from smoking or alcohol, it does not completely eliminate their chances of contracting it.
However, there is a common misconception that only women with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer fall victim to it, which is not true. According to reports, only 5 to 10% of breast cancer patients have a family history of it. Nonetheless, it is important to do your self-examination every month and get your mammograms done if you are over 40, regardless of your genes or family history of breast cancer.
3. Not Every Lump Is Cancerous
Many lumps formed in your breasts are either cysts and/or benign lumps and are a result of physiological changes in your body, especially during menstruation. That is why it is advised to do a self-examination after your menstrual period ends. However, even if you do feel something out of the ordinary, there is no need to panic and no harm in going to your doctor to get it examined. The most important thing is to check in regularly.
4. Dense Breast Tissue
Dense breasts are not necessarily related to the size of breasts. Having dense breasts means you have dense breast tissue. Hence, it is difficult to look for lumps or possible abnormalities through a mammogram. Thus, in such cases, some doctors recommend going for breast MRIs and breasts ultrasounds.
However, you need to consult a specialist first before deciding anything. If you have dense breast tissue, your doctor can let you know your options.
5. Not Every Breast Cancer Is The Same
Not everyone’s body, genes and, biological makeup are identical, hence, each body does not react to cancer in the same way. One treatment working for a patient will not necessarily work for the other because the same tumor will react differently in their body.
Some cancers can be aggressive in nature but smaller in size, yet, others can be massive but completely treatable and not life-threatening. Thus, let your doctor design a treatment that is compatible with your body, and don’t compare.
Men Can Have Breast Cancer Too
Many people are under the impression that breast cancer is a women’s disease and it is not possible for men to have it. That is absolutely not true.
Just like women, men also have breast tissue, which does not rule out the possibility of them getting it, albeit, the chances of it happening are significantly less as compared to women. Hence, just like women, men must also perform self-breast exams.
It is our duty, as women, to break through these senseless taboos and put ourselves and our health first. Be vocal about breast cancer, educate others, and don’t forget to do your monthly self-breast examinations.
Disclaimer: Please consult a specialist/healthcare provider as this article merely serves as a guideline.