Breast Cancer Awareness Month

  • Indira Cancer Trust raises awareness 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Indira Cancer Trust aims to raise awareness on the prevention, risks and symptoms of breast cancer in order to lower the number of cases per year and empower women to lead a healthy life. 

Brunch spoke to the Chairperson of Indira Cancer Trust Dr. Lanka Jayasuriya Dissanayake to learn more about breast cancer and how women can deal with it. 

On the topic of what cancer is and how it’s formed, Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake informed us that our bodies are made up of millions of tiny cells that have different jobs to do. Usually new cells are made as they are needed in each part of the body. Inside each cell are chemicals that give the signals for making new cells or stopping making new cells.

“Cancer forms when the cells get their signals mixed up so that cells formed are not normal and therefore don’t get the message to stop making new cells, so too many are made,” Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake explained. 

Thus, a tumour forms. She informed us that some tumours are benign; that is to say that too many new cells are made but they don’t spread anywhere else. The other kind of tumour is malignant, and this is the cancer that grows too much in one area and can spread to other areas of the body. 

When it comes to cancer of the breast; Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake explained that it is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. The kind of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer and can begin in different parts of the breast.

Early detection: Touch, Look, Check 

Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake highlighted that early detection of breast cancer is important as it is associated with an increased number of available treatment options, increased survival, and improved quality of life. While there is no definitive method of preventing breast cancer, early detection provides the best chance of effective treatment. According to Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake, women over 20 need to self-examine at least once a month- seven days after the start of menstruation, while women from 20-40 need a clinical examination every two years, and age 40+ requires one every year. Anyone from age 50-69 need a mammogram every two to three years. 

“Breast cancer is not always a lump. There are other symptoms one needs to look for when self examining that will help it be detected early. This is why the touch-look-check is so important,” Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake stated. She explained that signs and symptoms of breast cancer include a lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit, a change to the skin, such as puckering or dimpling, a change in the colour of the breast – the breast may look red or inflamed. 

A nipple change, for example it has become pulled in (inverted), rashes or crusting around the nipple, unusual liquid (discharge) from either nipple and/or changes in size or shape of the breast. 

“There’s no special way to check your breasts and you do not need any training. Checking your breasts is as easy as TLC: Touch your breasts: can you feel anything new or unusual? Look for changes: does anything look different to you? Check any new or unusual changes,” Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake commented, adding that everyone will have their own way of touching and looking for changes but it is important that they get used to checking regularly and be aware of anything that’s new or different for you. 

She advised women to check their whole breast area, including up to their collarbone (upper chest) and armpits.

Risk factors and prevention   

Studies have shown that breast cancer is due to a combination of factors. The main factors that influence your risk include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older. 

Some women will get breast cancer even without any other risk factors that they know of. Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake stated that having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect. Most women have some risk factors, but most women do not get breast cancer. There are risk factors that you cannot change and some you can control. 

Some of the unchangeable risk factors include genetic mutations, reproductive history (early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.), having dense breasts as they have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram, personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk. 

Dr. Jayasuriya Dissanayake also detailed risk factors that one can change; “Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer; older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight. Other factors include taking some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.” She further added that having one’s first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk. 

Another risk women can control is drinking alcohol and smoking as studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol and cigarettes she consumes.

By choosing the healthiest lifestyle options possible, you can empower yourself and make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible.