Incidence of breast cancer increasing in India; more women under 50s being diagnosed with the disease

Chennai, 18th  November 2016: More Indian women in their 40’s are being diagnosed with breast cancer in India today, unlike the West where most patients are diagnosed at 50 years of age. Doctors say this shifting epidemiology of breast cancer in India demands greater research and analysis to determine its causes.

Dr. Manikandan Dhanushkodi, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Oncology, Cancer Institute (WIA), Chennai says the incidence of breast cancer is increasing in India, with more aggressive cancers being reported in relatively younger women. 

“A significant proportion of these women are diagnosed with advanced stage at presentation, which may not be curable. This is due to lack of cancer awareness, lack of implementation of screening strategies like the mammogram, lifestyle changes, and social stigma associated with cancer,” says Dr. Mani.

There is an alarming rise in preventable risk factors in recent years with urbanization and adoption of western lifestyles. The preventable risk factors for breast cancer include smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, lesser duration of breastfeeding, and use of hormonal therapy. 
Dr. Mani adds “The symptoms of breast cancer are a lump in the breast and/or armpit, nipple discharge or ulceration over the breast. Any such symptom must be immediately reported to the primary care doctor for evaluation. If the lump is proven to be cancer, primary care doctor should refer them to a tertiary cancer center for a comprehensive treatment.“

About 5 – 10% of breast cancer can be genetic due to BRCA mutation. Women with family history of breast cancer, breast and ovarian cancer, breast cancer in both breast and male breast cancer patients need a genetic blood testing for possible BRCA mutation. BRCA mutant women have a very significant increase in their lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Hence preventive mastectomy of both breast and preventive surgery for the ovary (oophorectomy) is recommended.
The treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy. Breast reconstruction after surgery can significantly improve self-esteem, sexuality and psychological health.

Can you lower your breast cancer risk? The good news is Yes!

Stop Smoking & Alcohol: Smoking is by far the biggest risk of cancer and cancer related deaths. Research also suggests that women who have heavy alcoholic drinks have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Exercise: Exercise is a breast-friendly habit and a daily exercise of at least 30 minutes has been found to substantially lower risk of breast cancer.

Weight reduction: You would be surprised to know that obesity is associated with an increased risk of many different types of cancers. Breast cancer is one of them. Studies have linked a high Body Mass Index to increased risk of breast cancer. Obesity especially after menopause increases your risk of death due to breast cancer.

Breast-feeding: Increased duration of breast-feeding is known to be a protective factor for breast cancer.

Preventive Surgery: Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie underwent preventive mastectomy after discovering she had BRCA mutation. BRCA mutant women can undergo mastectomy of both breasts and removal of ovaries to reduce the risk of cancer.

To conclude breast cancer awareness, periodic self-breast examination, annual screening mammography (age > 50 years) and lifestyle modifications need to be implemented.