Dr. Swarupa Mitra

Consultant and head of Unit, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer hospital and research Institute. Rohini. New Delhi
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Dr. Swarupa Mitra Consultant, radiation Oncology. Rajiv Gandhi Cancer hospital and research Institute. Rohini. New Delhi

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    Dr. Sawrupa Mitra at a camp with ROKO Cancer

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    Dr. Swarupa Mitra with European mates at ESTRO.

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oncology facts

Myths about Breast Cancer

Cancer Breast knows no boundaries of time and place and age. It is perhaps one of the commonest cancers affecting women. Still considered as a harbinger of death and agony, its diagnoses throws a woman into despair and fear. A number of questions cloud their minds as they prepare to fight this disease. Let us unravel some of these facts and myths, so that the fear, the trauma, the enigma shrouding breast cancer is lessened.

Ques: What is breast cancer?

Ans : Occurs when abnormal cells grow chaotically, in one or both breasts. They may invade nearby tissues and form a mass, called a malignant tumor. The cancer cells can spread (metastasize) to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Ques: Can men too get breast cancer?

Ans: Each year it is estimated that approximately 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die of it.

Ques: Are only women with a Family History of Breast Cancer at Risk?

Ans: Women with a family history of breast carcinoma are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. But more than 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no such history.

Ques: Is Breast Cancer a Genetic Disease?

Two genes on chromosome 17, BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2), have been identified that may increased breast cancer risk. However, only 5% of breast cancers cases are related to mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. 

Ques: What are the other risk factors?

Ans: Age, high fat diets, obesity, previous breast biopsy showing benign conditions, menstruation beginning at an early age, menstruation continuing past age 50, not having children, having a first child after age 30. But up to 80% of women who get breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors.

Ques: Are older Women more likely to get Breast Cancer?

Ans: As a woman’s age increases, her risk of getting breast cancer also increases. In fact, age is one of the strongest risk factors for developing breast cancer. To help detect breast cancer early, women forty years of age and older should get regular mammograms in addition to a yearly clinical breast examinations (CBE) and monthly breast self-examinations (BSE).

Women between the ages of 20 and 40 should also practice monthly breast self-exams and receive physician-performed clinical breast exams at least every three years.

Ques: Can Breast Cancer be contagious?

Cancer is not a communicable disease or infection. Breast cancer is defined as an abnormal division in breast cells, resulting in a malignant (cancerous) tumor of the breast tissue.

Ques: Are all breast lumps cancerous?

In general, 80% of breast lumps are non-cancerous. The percentage of benign breast lumps in older women may be much lower than in younger women. It is still important for women to report any breast abnormality to their physician, especially if it persists for long.

One type of rare benign growth, atypical hyperplasia (abnormal increase in the number of breast cells), may increase a woman’s risk of invasive breast cancer. However, only about 3% of breast biopsies reveal atypical hyperplasia.

Ques: Does Breast-Feeding Cause Breast Cancer?

Ans: Breast-feeding does not cause breast cancer. In fact, some studies reveal that breast-feeding may decrease a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. However, this data has not been confirmed. Women who breast-feed can still get breast cancer, but they are not at any increased risk compared to women who do not breast-feed.

Ques: Does nipple discharge indicate Breast Cancer?

Ans: Most nipple discharges do not indicate a cancerous condition. If the discharge is clear, milky, yellow, or green, it may not indicate cancer. Bloody or watery nipple discharge is considered abnormal; however, only 10% of abnormal discharges are cancerous. Most bloody discharges are due to non-cancerous papillomas.

Ques: Can oral contraceptive Pills cause Breast Cancer?

Ans: Birth control pills do not cause breast cancer, even after prolonged use. Still, women at high risk for breast cancer should discuss any concerns about oral contraceptives with their physicians.

Ques: Does a Mammogram prevent Breast Cancer?

Ans: A mammogram cannot prevent breast cancer; but it is an excellent method to screen for and detect cancer at an early stage.

To help detect breast cancer early, women more than 40 years should have a regular mammogram in addition to a yearly clinical breast examinations (CBE) and monthly breast self-examinations (BSE). Women between the ages of 20 and 40 do not need annual screening mammograms unless they have a strong family history of breast cancer. However these women should practice monthly BSE and receive CBE at least every three years. A mammogram is a safe procedure that uses extremely low levels of radiation, about 0.1 to 0.2 rad dose per exposure.

Ques: What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

Ans: Any new lump in the breast or armpit, any change in the size, shape or symmetry of the breast, any dimpling, puckering or indention, redness or scaliness in the breast skin or nipple.

Nipple discharge, particularly if the discharge is bloody, clear and sticky, dark and nipple retraction In general, the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better are the chances for successful treatment and survival

Ques: What are the treatment options for breast cancer?

Ans: Radiation treatment linear accelerator. Women with breast cancer have many treatment options. The treatment that's best for one woman may not be best for another. The treatment modality depends mainly on the stage of the cancer, the results of the hormone receptor tests, the result of the HER2/neu test, and general health of the patient Main treatment options are:

  • Surgery - Lumpectomy, Mastectomy, Breast reconstruction
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapies --Tamoxifen, Aromatase inhibitors
  • Targeted therapies ---Trastuzumab (Herceptin), Lapatinib (Tykerb) and other tyrosine-kinase inhibitors, Bevacizumab (Avastin) and other anti-angiogenesis drugs.

Today, heightened awareness of breast cancer, has led to an increase in the number of women undergoing mammography for screening, leading to earlier detection and better survival rates.Infact 5 year survival is 95% with early detection of breast cancer. Thus as we procure the key to early diagnosis, we can look forward to more and more women living a longer and healthier life, looking up and smiling back at Breast cancer.