EXCLUSIVE: Importance of self awareness and regular screening to prevent Breast Cancer by Dr Sonali Bhagwat

Breast cancer is on the rise in India. In fact, it is the most common cancer among Indian women. Hence, prevention and early detection are very important.
EXCLUSIVE: Importance of self awareness and regular screening to prevent Breast Cancer by Dr Sonali BhagwatEXCLUSIVE: Importance of self awareness and regular screening to prevent Breast Cancer by Dr Sonali Bhagwat
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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month worldwide.
And it’s time to take charge of your life with Breast Self-Awareness!
This simply means paying attention to your breast health in a mindful manner. People who are “Breast Self-Aware” are more likely to take positive steps to prevent cancer, are more likely to detect changes in their breasts and seek medical help early, and have a better treatment outcome in general.

So how can we do this?

There are many risk factors that contribute towards breast cancer and some of these are certainly within our control to modify. 

Having a healthy diet, avoidance of fatty food and junk food,  regular physical exercise,  maintaining a healthy weight, breastfeeding and limiting alcohol intake are simple yet powerful steps to decrease our risk. If there is a family history of breast or other cancer, consult your doctor for further advice about screening and preventive measures. 

Screening 
Screening is important for early detection of breast cancer, leading to earlier treatment, preservation of breasts and increased survival. 
All women above the age of 40 years should have mammography once a year, and once every two years if over 60. Mammography is a special Xray of the breasts. It is quick and totally safe. Breast ultrasound and MRI are also used in certain cases as recommended by your doctor. 
After age 40, an annual health checkup with a clinical breast examination done by your doctor. It is another important screening tool.

Breast Self-Examination
Breast self-examination is simply a way to become familiar with your own breasts, to know how they feel throughout the monthly cycle, to pick up any lumps, skin changes, discharge or nipple changes. It is done once a month preferably the day after the menstrual cycle. It can be done easily and privately while bathing or getting dressed. It is recommended that all women after the age of 20 do this to get into this habit of knowing about their own breasts and continue to do so for the rest of their lives. 
First, visual inspection of both breasts and the underarms in front of a mirror, looking for any asymmetry, swelling or other changes. Then, using the fingers of the flat of the hand, the breasts are systematically felt in a circular motion outwards from the nipple. Also, feel under the arms. When done regularly, it allows us to know what is normal for our breasts and also, if there are any new findings like a lump, a persistent rash, a recently inverted nipple, any discharge or skin changes.
If any change is noticed during this monthly self-examination or even at any time during the month, do consult your doctor for further evaluation.

In summary, “Breast Self-Awareness” is a positive step that we ourselves can take to fight breast cancer. 
So let’s empower ourselves and Be Breast Aware!

About the author: Dr Sonali Bhagwat is a Consultant - General, Laparoscopic and Breast Surgery, Global Hospital, Mumbai.

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