As per the cancer incidence report for 2010 published by the National Cancer Control Programme, Sri Lankan females are the most succeptible to breast cancer (out of all cancer types). The probability of development occurs in one for every forty females.
But this does not mean it's a females-only disease.
Men can be diagnosed with breast cancer, too, with 39 Sri Lankan men being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.
So, what really is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a result of uncontrolled growth of cells. These cells that crowd out normal cells create a tumor which can be detected via an x-ray scan or be felt as a lump. The tumor becomes cancerous if the cells can grow into surrounding tissues or spread to distant areas of the body.
- The most common and known symptom is the appearance of a lump or an area of a thickened tissue in or near the breast or underarm area
- A change in the size of one or both breasts
- Redness/rash on or around nipple(s)
- Slight inversion of nipple(s)
- Change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast(s)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Discharge from nipple other than breast milk. However, miky discharge when not breastfeeding ought to be checked by a doctor
How to prevent breast cancer?
While there's no way to cancer-proof your life, here's how you can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer:
Exercising reduces the level of oestrogen which triggers the development of breast cancer. Thus, as multiple studies have proven, higher the physical activity, lower the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Breastfeed, if possible
While unproven, studies have shown a positive correlation between breastfeeding and the decrease in the risk of developing breast cancer. Two theories that explain this are:
- Breastfeeding mothers have fewer menstrual cycles. As a result, levels of oestrogen are reduced
- Breastfeeding makes breast cells more resistant to mutations that can cause cancer
- Find out your family history on cancer
One's family history becomes of great importance when assessing the risk factor of developing breast cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer is doubled if you've had one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer. Your risk is 5 times higher than average if two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed.
Regularly examining breasts helps detect any changes in one's breast(s) at an earlier stage resulting in faster treatment, if necessary, as more than 90% of tumors are detected by individuals themselves.
Alcohol can increase the level of oestrogen and and may also further increase the risk by damaging DNA in cells.
In comparison to non-drinking women, the risk of developing breast cancer is increased by 15% for women who have 3 alcoholic drinks a week.
- Avoid smoking
Smoking is the cause for multiple diseases one of which is breast cancer. American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study (2013) found a 24% increase in the likelihood of development of breast cancer in smokers and 13% increase in the case of former smokers. The research further found those who started smoking before their first menstrual cycle had a 61% higher risk, while those who started smoking after their first cycle, but 11 or more years before having a child, had a 45% higher risk in comparison to non-smokers.
- Eat right
No food can prevent the development of breast cancer. Giving your body the right food can, however, lower the risk by boosting your immune system and also reduce the risk of recurrence. Studies have also shown that being overweight increases the risk of breast cancer as fat cells mean oestrogen and higher the oestrogen level, higher the risk.
- Regular screening
The most recommended type of screening is the mammogram, as it helps detect any tumors early by scanning the breast tissue. International studies show that the mortality rate incurred due to the development of breast cancer can be cut down by 36% to 44% if screening mammography is conducted annually on women over the age of 40. In contrast, regular mammograms are not conducted on men due to the comparatively low amount of breast tissue. However, men are adviced to be familiar with the feel of their breast and chest wall tissue to be able to detect any changes.
Where to get mammogram screenings and cancer treatment in Colombo and Sri Lanka?
- National Cancer Insitute offers services for free
- Asiri Surgical Hospitals
- Hemas Hospital
- Durdans Hospital
- Nawaloka Hospital
- Lanka Hospital
- Ceylinco Healthcare Centre
- Sri Jayawardenepura General Hospital
- Tellippalai Trail Cancer Hospital (Jaffna)
Cancer treatment centers are limited in number in Sri Lanka.
To help fund the new cancer treatment center in Kandy, click here.
Breast cancer stats pertaining to Sri Lanka
- As found in the cancer incidence report for 2010 published by the National Cancer Control Programme, Colombo and Kandy had the highest number of men and women diagnosed with breast cancer
- In 2014, as reported by the Health Ministry, 22 out of 100,000 women in Sri Lanka suffer from breast cancer, making it the disease responsible for the highest mortality among Sri Lankan women
- As calculated in 2009 by the National Cancer Control Programme, breast cancer amounts to 20% of all cancers diagnosed, making it the most common type of cancer to be developed
- The above figure portrays the age specific rate for the development of breast cancer (2010)
So, why is breast cancer awareness important?
Because globally, on average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and 1 woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes.
Because globally, on average, 1 out of 1000 men develop breast cancer and men have a higher mortality rate than women due to lack of awareness.
And it could be you, or someone you love. So protect yourself!