Breast cancer: Be aware

In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2013, Ms T sheds some light on the illness and how it can be countered.

Nayab Najam October 28, 2013
In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2013, Ms T sheds some light on the illness and how it can be countered.

We, as humans, have a tendency to overlook the many horrific things around us, conveniently assuming that they will never affect us — cancer being one of them. Our superficial sense of security however, does not safeguard us from the evils of the disease and while some of us may be alright with living in the dark, it is important to break away from our ignorance and accept it as a reality that affects thousands of people across the world.

With October being the International Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we at Ms T thought it would be a good time to inform you about it and how one can prevent it.

Breast cancer can most simply be defined as any abnormal cell growth in the breast area, which included the arms and armpits as well. In other words, it is the development of malignant cells which usually begins in lobules (milk ducts) and can spread thereafter. Every year, over one million women around the world are diagnosed with breast cancer, which constitutes about 10% of all cancers worldwide.

A common misconception, caused perhaps by the world breast is that this form of cancer attacks only women, when in reality, there have been varied reports of men suffering the illness too, although women are almost 100% more likely to be affected than men. While almost anyone is vulnerable, there are certain risk factors which may increase one’s likelihood of contracting the disease, depending on their race, lifestyle, exposure to the sun, etc.

Risk Factors of Breast Cancer

Some of the most common risk factors of breast cancer include:

•  Age: Much like any other disease, the older one gets, the more vulnerable they are to cancer as age takes a toll on their health.

•  Personal history: One of the greatest evils of cancer is that it is a recurring disease which may arise multiple times during a patient’s lifetime, once they have had it before. Similarly, women who have beaten cancer on one breast have increased chances of contracting cancer on the other as well. Moreover, breast cancer is often seen to be genetic in women, putting daughters of patients at higher risk than others.

•  Race: Studies indicate that white women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer than any other race, despite which they are least likely to succumb to it. Most other races suffer from greater incidence of deaths caused by breast cancer though they are less likely to contract it. There are several other demographics that contribute to this, namely awareness, treatment of the illness or lack thereof.

•  Lifestyle: Obesity, excessive smoking and drinking, reproducing after the age of 30 and even opting out of breastfeeding are some of the lifestyle choices which can make or break one’s chances of having cancer.

Detection of Breast Cancer 

Most women are diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine cancer screening or after detecting certain suspicious signs or symptoms and seeking medical advice thereafter. While most of us are far from being oncologists, there are a few quick and easy ways in which one can determine the need for a doctor, the first and most obvious one being feeling for lumps. These include any sort of abnormal growth, swelling or unevenness on or around the breast area. A word of warning though: these lumps aren’t always blatantly obvious and it can be difficult to detect, especially if we do not know where to look. A simple way, as recommended by doctors, is to lie down and place your right hand behind the head, using the other to feel around for the lumps (and vice versa to examine the left side). Remember, the slightest bit of unevenness can be cancerous so it is best to consult a doctor immediately.

Other common symptoms of breast cancer include pains in the breast and armpit area, changes in the shape, size or colour of the breast or surrounding area and any discharge that might occur. If a woman detects any of these breast cancer signs and symptoms, she should speak to the doctor immediately. The doctor will then conduct a breast exam or mammogram to determine the future course of action.

Prevention of Breast Cancer

In Pakistan, about 40,000 women lose the battle against breast cancer every year, due to lack of sound medical facilities and awareness regarding prevention. While breast cancer, as an illness may develop in any body, there are some foods that can help prevent it. These include:

•  Nuts: Munching on any type of nuts and dry fruits has great advantages not only for the hair, skin and nails but they are also infused with essential nutrients which combat cancer.

•  Garlic and turmeric: According to popular belief, crushing and swallowing a clove of garlic every day helps fight the birth of cancerous cells in the body, as does turmeric. Lucky for us, both ingredients are fairly common in local cuisine and one does not have to go out of their way to incorporate them in their diet.

•  Dark green vegetables: Spinach, broccoli and other dark greens are known to posses chlorophyll, vitamin B and fibres which boost internal health.

•  Pomegranate: Many fruits, like pomegranate, contain large amounts of anti-oxidants and reduces the risk of breast cancer immensely by improving blood count. In fact, pomegranates are even used to help patients suffering from dengue.

•  Salmon: Fish is considered to be the richest source of Vitamin B-12 which is a key part of cancer treatment.

•  Green Tea: There are proven links between consuming green tea daily and reduced risks of breast cancer as well. In addition to this, green tea is rich in anti-oxidants which cut fat and boost one’s metabolism. Hence, we recommend you switch from regular chai to green tea from today!

Indeed a healthy diet can do wonders to boost one’s well-being but it works all the better when complimented with regular exercise and relaxation. Therefore, it is imperative to have a well-rounded lifestyle which incorporates eating well, activity and plenty of de-stressing to remain healthy and wealthy in life.

Fortunately, breast cancer is not incurable and if dealt with in the right way, the patient can beat it completely. Many breast cancer survivors have gone on to lead safe and fulfilling lives. However, as the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure and it is our responsibility as women to not only protect us from the disease but also help others by sharing knowledge and spreading awareness. These everyday changes can help the community lead a healthy, happy and cancer-free life.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, October 27th, 2013.


Pale Horse | 8 years ago | Reply

An informative article. Thankyou, Nayab.

I would just like to add a further piece of advice very often overlooked. Cosmetic products including the well known brands contain carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These include hair colorants and mascara to lip gloss and eyeliners.

Here's a great resource for readers to be informed on:

Curcumin, the active compound of Turmeric that you mention in your article not only prevents many types of cancers, it can also cause tumor necrosis, apoptosis and cancer cell death in patients who already have cancer in their bodies. However, it is not easily absorbed into the bloodstream. It must be taken with a small amount of Bioperine (ground black pepper) at a 1:5 ratio to increase it's bio-availability.

Curcumin has over two thousand research papers published in PubMed alone, proving it's effectiveness in vivo and vitro trials.

It was the primary herb used in our holistic, natural regimen for treating my sister's stage 4 HER2 breast cancer. Together with an alkaline diet, free from dairy, sugar, meat and processed foods, eating 70% raw food, she was declared cancer-free in 4 months.

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