Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed in countries across the world every October, helps to increase attention and support for awareness, early detection, and treatment for the disease. The theme for this year is – Importance of Early Detection.

Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in developed and developing countries and according to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) by the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the third most common cancer in Bangladesh with 12,764 cases as of 2018. We all know that women often neglect their health. Even women from the upper-class and upper-middle-class of the society, who don’t lack education or knowledge on the awareness of health issues, still tend to neglect taking care of their own health. They prioritize their family members and their needs or their busy work lives, over their health. Breast cancer doesn’t only affect women – it also affects men. According to Cancer Country Profile 2020 by WHO, 8.5% of the entire population of Bangladesh suffer from breast cancer at a 6.5% mortality rate.

Early diagnosis can help fight breast cancer effectively – in fact, if breast cancer is detected at the Stage 1 level, survival rates are only 95-99%; and the five-year survival rate for stage 2 breast cancer is 93% for women who have completed treatment. By contrast, women with stage 3 cancer have a five-year survival rate of 72%.

The most important risk factor for breast cancer is family history. There is a genetic predisposition for this cancer. If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should take special precautions to monitor for symptoms and, for women over 40, have regular mammograms.

There could be several symptoms of breast cancer like:

  • Lump in the breast or underarm
  • Swelling of part of the breast or any change in the size or the shape of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Pain in the nipple area or any area of the breast

Although it is rare, men can also get breast cancer. The most common symptoms of breast cancer in men are:

  • A lump or swelling in the breast
  • Redness or flaky skin in the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Nipple discharge
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area

Symptoms can also occur with other conditions that are not aligned with cancer. The most common cause of a lump in the breast for women is fibroadenoma or called simply a breast mouse. It is a benign tumor and rarely progresses to malignancy. Men can also get fibroadenomas but this is very rare.

To date, there is not sufficient knowledge on the causes of breast cancer, therefore, screening and early detection of the disease remains vital for breast cancer control. Simple measures such as self-breast examination is a well-accepted method where people examine their breast to detect any early lesion. There are other methods of screening for breast cancer such as an ultrasound of breasts and mammograms, which play an important role in the diagnosis of the condition. If a patient has a family history of breast cancer or their own history of benign tumors, then screening tests should be done annually. Otherwise, it is recommended for women over 40 years of age to get mammograms done every 3 years. Although ultrasound is not a routine screening test for breast cancer,  it is done in developing countries like Bangladesh.

Molecular cancer diagnostics tests can also play a vital role in cancer treatment. Those diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage should get a HER2 test done that can determine which targeted therapy or treatment protocol is best suited for a patient for early recovery. Treatment by surgery (removal of the lump) followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be enough for a complete cure along with lifelong follow-up counseling which plays a crucial role. In advanced cases, the whole breast may have to be removed. A patient may also have hormone therapy after surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are finished which can help prevent a return of the disease.

Creating continuous awareness and sharing knowledge about the cause, screening, investigation methods, and treatment for breast cancer can prevent the condition, although some cases may still progress to malignancy.

There are many success stories of women who have faced the ordeal with courage and determination and have been a source of inspiration for recovering breast cancer women. This year, let’s raise more awareness for early detection and help to curb breast cancer in our communities and in the world.

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