Prevention of breast cancer

There is no proven preventive step for breast cancer. Throughout life, people come across several factors that increase their risk. Among them, some factors, such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle may be changed, whereas some factors, such as getting older and family history cannot be changed. According to WHO, about 30% to 50% of cancer deaths can be prevented by taking certain measures in their day-to-day life to avoid key risk factors.

Early diagnosis is the key for better outcomes and prognosis. Therefore, annual screening (>40years) and monthly self-breast examination are important.

  1. Breast self-examination: Self-breast examination must be done every month, usually two days after the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women. Post-menopausal woman can choose any one particular day of the month. This is done to look for any lumps, tenderness, nipple discharge, swellings or any abnormal changes in the size, shape, or texture of breasts.

    Steps to do a self-breast examination:

    Step-1: Keep your shoulders straight and the arms on your hips, now look at your breasts in the mirror. Check if the breasts are in their usual size, shape, and colour. See if the nipples are normal or inverted. Notice the outline of each breast. Also, look for any nipple discharge on slightly squeezing your nipples.

    Step-2: Repeat step-1 by raising your arm above the head. Look at your arm pit and under-surface of the breasts for any abnormal findings.

    Step-3: Begin this step by lying on your back on a bed in a semi propped position. Place your left hand on the right breast and feel the breast. Keep your finger together and move them in a circular motion with a firm and smooth touch. Make sure that you cover the entire breast tissue. During this step gently squeeze the nipple to check for discharge. Extend the examination to the arm pit. Repeat the same process on the left breast. Please do not pinch your breasts as it is likely that you will find something abnormal on pinching.

    Step-4: Most women can feel their breasts better when the skin is wet and slippery. So, this step can be done in the shower. This step can be done either by standing or sitting and using the same hand movement as described in the above step. If you notice anything abnormal on self-examination, make sure to reach out to a doctor near you. If not, please repeat the process on the same day the following month.

  2. Breast cancer screening: It is an effective method to detect breast cancer in the early stage and improve survival rates. Mammography is the best imaging test to screen for breast cancer in healthy women. It uses low doses of X-rays to detect any lumps, which cannot be felt during a physical examination. Screening is encouraged in women above the age of 40 (average risk) and earlier in women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer. In addition to the above measures, the following steps may help in reducing the risk of breast cancer:
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle
  • More than 3 hours of brisk exercise a week.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight (>5 servings of vegetables or fruits a day)
  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption
  • Smoking cessation
  • Conceiving at an early age
  • Breastfeeding, if possible
  • Avoiding the use of birth control pills, especially after the age of 35 years

Patient Resources

Breast Cancer

Types of Breast Cancer

Symptoms and Causes

Diagnosis and Treatment

Myths and Facts