In metropolitan cities like Chennai, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women. Though hereditary factors contribute up to 5 to 10% of breast cancers, most occur spontaneously. Early puberty, late menopause, delayed first child birth, having no/less number of children, obesity, hormone replacement therapy etc are some of the factors which increase one's risk of getting breast cancer. Breast feeding, healthy diet and physical activity are some factors which reduce the risk.

How to prevent breast cancer

Though breast cancer cannot be prevented, screening helps in early detection and thus provides a cure and a prolonged duration of life.

Screening for breast cancer includes
Mammogram/ MRI-breast
Clinical Breast Examination (CBE)
Self Breast Examination (BSE)

Mammogram/ MRI-breast

It is the X-ray of the breast tissue. Very small lumps which cannot be felt by breast examination can be picked up, though it is not100% accurate. Breast MRI is emerging as a more accurate method for breast cancer screening.

When to have a mammogram?

It is recommended to have a baseline mammogram at 40 years of age and then at periodic intervals depending on the risk factors and Physician's advice. In many countries it is recommended every year, starting from 40 years of age.

Women having family history of breast, colon, ovarian and uterine cancers and those who have other risk factors may need to start the screening tests earlier.

What is Clinical Breast Examination?

This is a systematic examination done by seeing and feeling your breasts by a trained health provider. CBE is recommended once a year. The health provider also teaches and helps to do a proper breast self examination during these visits.

What is Self Breast Examination?

All women, starting from 20 years of age should have self breast awareness, knowing how their breasts feel and look and should report any change in their breasts to their Physician immediately.

BSE is a systematic self examination of breasts done after a week of getting your menstrual periods.

Any swelling or lump in your breast or axilla, change in shape or size of the breasts, any change in skin colour , in-drawing of nipple, discharge from the nipples are some of the findings which require an immediate medical consultation.

One should also remember that most lumps are not cancerous and therefore proper medical tests are to be undertaken before concluding the same.