Aisha Saldanha, Student, Grade 11, NSS Hill Spring International School shares her understanding about breast cancer and the need for concerted efforts to control the disease
What is cancer? Cancer is the uncontrolled division of cells in the body. Breast cancer is one that is localised to the human breast. It is a malignant tumour that spreads to different parts of the breast. Even though it has become common in women, men can be diagnosed with it too. In women, there need not be a risk factor (things which influences the chance of getting a disease) involved. There are numerous factors that could affect the chance of getting this disease, but a specific cause is not yet known. Some factors could be age, lifestyle (including smoking, drinking, diet, physical activity), or even genetic inheritance. This means that breast cancer could be passed on down generations – family history can contribute to one’s chance of getting breast cancer. Very often, it also happens to women who were not genetically carrying the risk of getting the disease.
Globally, the number of cancer cases is increasing. The rise in urbanisation and awareness in the population have led to an increase in the number of cases reported. In 2015, there were around 240,000 expected new cases of breast cancer in women in the US alone. However, the numbers for breast cancer in the US have been decreasing over the years.
The number of women diagnosed in India annually with breast cancer is around one lakh, out of which the mortality rate is around 30,000 per year. About a decade ago, there were only 50,000 cases reported in India. In rural areas, the mortality rate is still high, due to late presentation. The number of young women diagnosed with breast cancer is also increasing — mainly in the 30-40 years age group. There is no clear cause yet but there is a correlation between the changes in lifestyle and an increasing number of cases in young women. However, with the number of organisations devoted to cancer detection, there is yet a chance for these numbers to decrease.
There are several remedies for cancer such as chemotherapy and radiation. For breast cancer oncologists rely on surgery, chemotherapy and radiation the most due to their reliability. Moreover, there are new therapies that are proving helpful, immunotherapy to name a few. These therapies are biological and would have a lower chance of being affected by side effects. All around the world researchers are trying to create effective cancer therapies. Pharma companies are now looking at the opportunity presented by oncology. Therefore we can rely on science and medicine to deliver the end product, hopefully soon.
However, even with the improvements in therapy, it is better to be safe than sorry. There are a number of ways to reduce the chance of contracting breast cancer. This includes being healthy and keeping fit, breastfeeding your baby, drinking less alcohol, reducing cholesterol, etc. These methods are proving to be helpful and can not only reduce one’s chance of contracting cancer but also increase one’s life expectancy. Exercising is very important as well as maintaining a health diet. Research shows that exercising for around four-seven hours a week can reduce the risk of contracting breast cancer. Additionally, an unhealthy diet plays a role in contracting around 30-40 per cent of all cancers.
Apart from doctors and family, we can also rely on our government. The Indian government does help patients in need, for e.g., by reducing the monetary rate of drugs and providing check-ups at a lower price. Even NGOs are doing great work for this cause. There are several NGOs that provide free detection and check up camps for women in need, for example, Indian Cancer Society is very active in conducting cancer awareness and detection camps around the city and other parts of India. Their work has benefited many around the country. They not only conduct fundraisers, but also actively engage with cancer patients. They have conducted many detection camps for women for breast cancer and have helped them after the diagnosis.
Women today are more at risk to contract breast cancer than ever before. Hence, everyone should be aware of the potential causes of this cancer and be careful to avoid them as much as possible, if possible. Anyone can be diagnosed with this and it is imperative that all women should be on their ‘best behaviour’. Also, it should not be just up to NGOs and the government to help, everyone should contribute in some way to help people in need. Volunteer, donate, any kind of contribution is of worth to the society. After all, these women are someone’s mother, sister, daughter, and wife.