How working women can avoid breast cancer
Working women are at increased risk of breast cancer due to work-related stress, exposure to toxins at work, delayed childbearing, etc. Dr Ashwin Rajagopal, Consultant for Surgical Oncology at Manipal Hospitals in Bengaluru's Whitefield explains the importance of early breast cancer detection and the ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer in working women.
Breast Cancer Burden in India
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research's latest National Cancer Registry Programme Report 2020, India will witness about a 12 per cent rise in cancer cases by 2025.
As per estimates, there are about 13.9 lakh cancer cases in 2020, which is likely to increase to 15.7 lakhs by 2025. Breast cancer is the leading form of cancer in Indian women.
The rate of cancer in Indian females is as high as 25.8 per 100,000 women, while the mortality rate is 12.7 per 100,000 women.
Risk factors in working women
Working women, particularly in some occupations, are at increased risk for developing breast cancer.
A report in 2015, published by Breast Care Fund, identifies various occupations that pose a high risk of developing breast cancer.
These occupations include orthopaedic surgeons, nurses, lab technicians, radiological technicians, women working in chemical industries, and lawyers, teachers, journalists, and other professionals.
The factors for increasing the risk include exposure to chemicals and ionizing radiations, melatonin suppression due to night shift, deferring child-bearing, passive smoking, and work-related stress.
Importance of early diagnosis
Early detection of breast cancer is a key determining factor for improved survival.
According to the American Cancer Society, 99 per cent of women with localized breast cancer survives for at least 5-years after the cancer diagnosis, in comparison to only 27 per cent of patients if cancer spreads to distant organs.
Early detection, along with advanced treatment options, is one of the important factors in dropping the death rate by 40 per cent in the last few decades.
Approach to early diagnosis
* All women above 20 years of age should perform breast self-examination every month five days after the menstrual period.
* Postmenopausal women should perform breast self-examination on a particular day/date of every month.
* Oncologists also recommend annual breast examination, by an experienced doctor in all women over 40 years of age.
* Regular mammogram after the age of 40-45 years is highly recommended for early detection and timely treatment, especially in high-risk patients.
* Many cases of breast cancers are diagnosed because of self-examination done by the patient. Women should be aware of the feel and looks of their breasts, and should immediately consult with the doctor if there is any alteration in normalcy.
* The most common changes in breasts due to cancer include a lump usually on one side, change in size or shape of nipples, pain in the breasts, discharge from nipples, and change in the breast skin colour.
Preventing Breast Cancer
There are various ways to prevent or at least reduce the risk of breast cancer.
* Women should wear protective clothing while working in an environment with radiation or other bio-hazards.
* Avoiding active and passive smoking reduces the risk of breast cancer significantly.
* A healthy lifestyle encompassing a nutritious diet and regular physical activity aimed at maintaining an ideal weight for height also reduces the chances of getting breast cancer.
* Avoiding alcohol and cutting down on work-related stress is also a great way to beat cancer and lead a healthy life. Stress alters the glucocorticoid system resulting in an increased risk of breast cancer.
* The use of oral contraceptives, not conceiving and late first pregnancy beyond 30 years of age may increase the risk of breast cancer. Many women opt not to breastfeed due to various reasons. Research indicates that breastfeeding if done for at least a year, may reduce the risk of breast cancer.