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Breast cancer - Modern day bane that many women have overcome - 7th August 2017

A topic that can strike terror in the heart of any woman, breast cancer is the most common cancer, the most invasive one and also ranks as the secondmost common cause of cancer death among women. So whether it's a young mom or an older mother, a working woman or homemaker, a Polynesian or a Chinese - is the dice always loaded against women? Or are there some characteristics and risk factors which make some women prone than others to be afflicted by this often difficult-to-detect and quite often fatal disease?

Screening methods and treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy and certain surgical procedures have greatly heightened survival rates, over the years - bringing down the chances of a woman in the U.S dying from breast cancer to just 2.7 per cent. But first, let's have a look at some underlying causes.

1) Diet particularly alcohol consumption:
In a study covering 200 incident breast cancer cases held across Canada, Netherlands, US and Sweden using pooled analyses data, it was found that for less than 60g/d, alcohol consumption risk increased linearly with increased intake. Risk estimates were not influenced by the type of alcoholic beverage. It was concluded that reduced alcohol consumption among regular drinkers showed a direct drop in breast cancer risk among those women.

2) Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT):
The Million Women Study has shed light on the use of HRT and cancer incidence. Among the 50-64 year old women, half had used HRT  and while past users were not at increased risk of incident cancer or death; it wasn't the case for women who used estrogen only preparations and risk was much higher for those who were on oestrogen-progestagen combo. Another factor which influenced results was whether the formulation was implanted, oral or transdermal. The total duration of use also impacted the risk, higher the number of years, more the risk.

3) Occupational hazards:
Can night shift among nurses make them more susceptible to cancer? In a study which used the logistic regression model and two-sided statistical tests, results confirmed a slight increase among women who had worked three night shifts in a month and even more among those who had also worked evenings. This could be because of light exposure in the night which suppresses melatonin production. Melatonin is widely known as 'the hormone of darkness' and also promotes the tumour suppressor gene.

4) Proliferative breast lesions:
In yet another study it was found that cysts alone did not add to the risk of developing breast cancer, nor did family history among women with non-proliferative lesions. But the risk was 2.7 times higher among women with cysts and a family history than women who did not have either of them. Calcification further spikes cancer risk among women with proliferative disease. 

So should women look out for symptoms such as a lump in or thickening of the breast and changes to the skin or nipple in order to be alert and nip the disease before it takes galloping strides? Every woman needs to know basic facts about cancer which may save her life.

The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma which takes root in the milk duct. When cancer begins in the lobules it is termed as lobular cancer. Uncontrolled growth of cancerous cells, when they burst out of the duct or lobule, is known as invasive cancer and this may be lethal as it attacks surrounding tissue and rapidly spreads in other parts of the body. Non-invasive breast cancer, is when the cancerous growth is still under control, but may lead to invasive breast cancer. 

Besides being aware of an inverted nipple discharge from the breast especially blood and reporting it immediately to a doctor, women can also look out for the following risk factors:
a) High sugar intake
b) Smoking
c) Radiation exposure
d) Alcohol abuse
e) Prior history of breast cancer
f) Ageing
g) Heredity
h) Cosmetic breast implants
i) Being overweight / obesity
j) Prolonged estrogen exposure

Meditation have helped many women stay positive and overcome this dreaded disease. Most of the risk factors cited above can be altered with a change in lifestyle. Cancer victims and survivors no longer feel that it is an unbeatable disease, in fact they proudly see themselves as victors. Scores of women have beaten the odds and lived full lives - authoring books about their experiences, resuming normal work and being an inspiration to others. Remember, cancer has 'can' in it.