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Thursday, October 06, 2016

A swelling or pain in your chest may not necessarily signal breast cancer. Nonetheless, you should know the signs and the risks. Jagruti Verma & Pearl Mathias tell you a little about it

A sudden, sharp pain in your breast can get your mind racing and have you wondering if it’s something you need to worry about. It’s true that breast cancer doesn’t present with very prominent symptoms in its early stages, but if you detect an unusual lump in your breast tissue (even men can suffer from breast cancer!), you should schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. The signs of breast cancer are not the same in all women. Common signs include a change in how your breasts or nipples look and feel, as well as unusual nipple discharge. It’s extremely important to get screened, because early detection can transform your breast cancer story into a survivor’s tale. October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month and so, we’re telling you what you need to know about the disease.

As per the Consolidated Report of Hospital Based Cancer Registries: 2012-2014, published in 2016 by the National Cancer Registry Programme of Indian Council of Medical Research, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Among the women surveyed in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram, breast cancers accounted for over 20% of cancer cases — the highest percentage. In Bangalore, however, the highest incidence was cervical cancer. This was true practically over all age groups. However, the highest incidence of cancers (all types) was seen in women aged between 35 and 64-years-old. As much as 77% of women who suffered from cancer were in this age bracket, with women between the ages of 15 and 34 accounting for 9-14% of cancer sufferers — a sizeable chunk.

This highlights the need to be aware of breast cancer and the importance of detecting it early to increase your chances of winning the battle against the dreaded condition. Since awareness is of essence here, an entire month (October) is marked with awareness campaigns run by different organisations. And, these campaigns are not only directed towards awareness, but also to raise funds for treatment of women suffering from breast cancer.

The symbol for breast cancer awareness is the pink ribbon. People wear this on their chest to show solidarity to those suffering from or who have suffered from breast cancer. Ever wondered how such an innocent sign became an international symbol for something so serious?

The use of ribbons as a remembrance for loved ones who died at war dates back to the 19th century. Red ribbons were used for AIDS awareness and started gaining popularity in the early 1990s. Breast cancer awareness programs followed suit. Since pink is a feminine colour, it was chosen for the task. When it comes to awareness about this disease, it should be kept in mind that it is not just about taking care of yourself; it is also about being sensitive to those who are suffering from the condition.

And, the most important thing to keep in mind is that being diagnosed with breast cancer isn’t the end. Many people have beaten the disease and a lot depends on your will power and positivity in getting through it. If you know someone who is going through a difficult time, be sensitive and considerate. A simple smile can help them get their self confidence back and move forward.


  •  Changes in the shape and feel of your nipples
  •  When the pain in your breast persists even after your period
  •  A new lump, which doesn’t go away after your next period
  •  Nipple discharge from only one breast, which could be yellow, red, brown or clear
  •  Swelling or a lump under your arm or around your collarbone
  •  Unusual swelling, skin irritation, itchiness or a rash on your breast
  •  Sudden, inexplicable and excessive weight loss
  •  One breast bigger or smaller than the other


  •  If the sudden changes that you observe in your breasts last for more than one menstrual cycle
  •  If you are over the age of 40, especially if breast cancer occurs in your family

Before puberty, the breast tissue in girls and boys is similar. And so, it’s not just women; adult men too have breast tissue and they can also suffer from breast cancer. However, breast cancer in men is quite rare. Only 1% of the types of breast cancers occur in men; the other 99% occur only in women. We spoke with Dr. Anil Heroor, consultant OncoSurgeon and HOD, Department of Colorectal Surgery, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, to know more. He tells us, “As a disease, there is no difference since the symptoms and treatments are the same for both men and women. However, certain factors do play a role. In men, breast cancer tends to be a little more aggressive, and since men have very little breast tissue, the spread of cancer is faster.” Normally, the men who develop breast cancer tend to have a family history of the disease, and the symptoms are the same as in women, Dr. Anil tells us. “However, men tend to ignore it a lot more as there is a certain amount of embarrassment associated with going to a doctor for a breast issue. This causes a delay is diagnosis. Men feel shy because they think that breast problems are only associated with women,” he says. However, although the signs and symptoms are the same, it isn’t advisable for men to undergo a routine mammography. “It is extremely difficult to do a mammography on men because they have very little breast tissue,” Dr. Anil tells us.

Although breast cancer in men is rare and it is difficult to make people aware on a large scale, the take-home message is that men can get breast cancer too. Dr. Anil advises that if you are a man over the age of 40 and notice a unilateral enlargement of your breast tissue (where one side of your chest looks a little larger than the other), a lump on your breast, or that the skin on your breast shows thickening or puckering, you should consult a doctor immediately! There is nothing to be ashamed of.

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