Decoding cancer prevention in women

Cancer was first described in Egypt as far back as 3000 BC.

Published: 15th October 2020 05:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th October 2020 05:04 AM   |  A+A-

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BENGALURU : Cancer was first described in Egypt as far back as 3000 BC. In those days, it was noted that this condition had no treatment. However, now it can be prevented, and many can be cured if diagnosed in the early stages. The most common cancers in Indian women are breast, cervical, colorectal, ovary, lip and oral cancer. Until a few years ago, cervical cancer was the most common cancer in Indian women. However, this has been overtaken by breast cancer, especially in metro cities, for reasons poorly understood.

 Breast cancer
This is the most common cancer in Indian women and about one in 28 are likely to develop it during their lifetime. It is more in the urban areas. The incidence begins to rise in the early thirties and peaks at the age of 50 – 64 years.

Can it be prevented?
The cause of breast cancer is not known. Hence it is not known if it can be prevented completely. Studies have looked at the link between breast cancer and diet and exercise.  Although there are no definite conclusions, there are benefits for women who exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, do not smoke and have a low intake of alcohol.  Women who breast feed are also at a lower risk of breast cancer. If breast cancer is detected early it is easier to treat.  

All women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to their doctor immediately. Mammograms are advocated as screening procedure to detect cancer early. In some cases breast cancer may have a genetic disposition and this has to be discussed with a doctor.

 Cervical cancer
The incidence of cervical cancer in India is 22.86 per cent, making it the second most common female cancer. The average age of affliction is 38 years. It is thought to be caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) through sexual contact. 

Can it be prevented?
Ways of reducing the risk of cervical cancer include using condoms, not smoking, getting regular pap smears, being vaccinated against HPV virus and not having multiple partners.

 Ovarian cancer
The incidence of ovarian cancer in India is between 0.9 – 8.4/100,000.  The risk starts increasing from age 35 and reaches a peak between the ages of 55 – 64.   The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. It can run in families with a history of ovarian, breast and colorectal cancers, personal history of breast cancer, endometriosis, being overweight, using fertility pills continuously for more than one year also increase the risk.  Factors that reduce the risk are a full term pregnancy before the age of 26, birth control pills used for 3 – 6 months or more and tubal ligation or sterilization. 

Can it be prevented? 
There are no specific screening methods for this disease and therefore unfortunately it is detected only in the later stages.  Some warning signs are bloating of abdomen, feeling full quickly after eating, frequent urination, abdominal pain, weight loss and nausea.  The author is the director, senior obstetrician and gynaecologist- Fortis La Femme Hospital, Richmond Road. 

Lifestyle factors
Things like diet (fried foods, red meat), smoking,  alcohol, sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity, and physical inactivity can cause 90–95 per cent of the cancers. Therefore, cancer prevention requires lifestyle modification and avoidance of cancer triggers. 

Self-examine for breast cancer

Step 1: Stand in front of a mirror with a straight back and shoulders. Place your hands on your hips and observe the shape of your chest.
Step 2: Now, lift your arms and look out for changes. Do you observe any skin dimpling, skin ulceration or elevation? 
Step 3: Watch out for any nipple flattening or inversion. Keep a lookout for other changes in the breast shape, nipple appearance or differences between the breasts.
Step 4: Lie down and use smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand to observe both breasts for lumps, soreness, swelling, dimpling, nipple inversion, etc. Use a circular motion and cover every part of the breast from top to bottom and side to side. 
Step 5: Repeat instructions in Step 4 while standing or sitting.

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