It was a November afternoon in 2012, my mother came out of the shower worried. What is it, mom? She said she felt a nodule in her armpit. It was smaller than the size of a pea. It had been there for a week but she was too shy to ask so she waited and observed.
She was a perfectly healthy woman who worked out, led a healthy lifestyle and made the right food choices. I’m a doctor and I am well aware that any lump in your axilla or breast shouldn’t be ignored.
I didn’t panic because I didn’t want my mother to worry without any proper investigation. We went to the hospital, got her mammography done and all the other investigations required. Going through cancer is always hard. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 metastatic cancer.
It turned our whole life upside down. The emotional burden of the disease is beyond imagination. I remember my mother couldn’t come to my reception because she had chemotherapy. And even after going through painful chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions and multiple surgeries, she couldn’t make it.
More than 2 million new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in 2018 worldwide. That’s a considerable number. Early detection can save lives. Early-stage cancers are easier to treat and have a better prognosis.
Mammography is done to screen breast cancer. Annual mammography is recommended for a woman above the age of 40 and especially those with a family history of breast cancer, ovarian or uterine cancer. But only 25% of the woman suffering from breast cancer show signs (e.g. lump) or have risk factors (e.g. family history). Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in the woman. 1 in 8 women is diagnosed with breast cancer. In India, 60% of breast cancers are detected at an advanced stage. Frequent breast self-examination can be a useful tool to diagnose early breast cancer or lump (can be benign too such as fibroadenoma).
Look out for these signs:
• Discharge from the nipple
• Unusual breast or nipple pain
• Growth of veins
• Pulling of skin under tumor
• Redness, hot skin, swelling
• Resize of one of the breast, an obvious asymmetry
• Retraction of the nipple
• Sealing tumor or thinning of the skin
• Retraction of skin on the chest
• Dimpling of skin
• Lymph node changes Risk Factors of breast cancer (In the table below)
What you can do?
• Healthy diet
• Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
• Limit smoking
• Reduce alcohol
• Limit hormone therapy (if you are on one)
• Avoid exposure to radiations
• Annual mammograms
• Periodic self-breast examinations