The incidence of breast cancer in the young is on the rise and the causes are due to many factors but the first thing is due to an increase in awareness levels where because awareness has increased, more young women are getting screened and more breast cancers are being detected in them early on.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Vinu Sarathy, Consultant Medical Oncologist at Baptist Hospital in Bangalore, shared that previously, breast cancer was considered as a disease of the old, where women above 50 or 60 were diagnosed with breast cancer but these days, we have women over 40 being screened even more regularly at more frequency so, we are detecting it far more commonly. He added, “The second is the current change in lifestyle, a sedentary lifestyle, more Westernised diet, more saturated fat, less fiber, less activity and a lot of stress. Apart from these, the incidence rate is increasing, especially the triple-negative breast cancer OR HER2-positive breast cancer, which is not common in older women. We are also finding that 5 to 10% of the incidence rate is attributed to family or genetic factors.”
Highlighting that the breast cancer screening has not taken off big way in our society, Dr Vinu Sarathy said, “While previously, the number for screening was one or two women out of ten. Today, we are seeing at least 4 of 5 women enquiring about risk factors or asking questions about family members being diagnosed with breast cancer. The numbers should definitely increase and more women should come forward for screening. Again, in terms of risk factors, we have seen that the ones who do come for voluntary screening are the ones who try to gather information since someone in their family has been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
He explained, “Unlike other cancers like oral cancer where people come voluntarily for screening irrespective of someone being diagnosed with cancer, the same is not the case with breast cancer. Women are usually coming forward for screening only after someone they know is diagnosed with breast cancer. They do contribute and play a part but only to a certain extent. There are two risk factors that are absolutely known to cause breast cancer. One is genetic factors, previous exposure to radiation, etc. Then there are oral contraceptive pill use and environmental factors that are known to increase the incidence of breast cancer by around 1.3 to 2 times more, than the population where these risk factors are not there.”
Dr Vinu Sarathy concluded, “It may not be a very strong factor but you can say for sure that your risk of getting breast cancer is 40 times more or 60 times more but definitely, people exposed to these factors are known to be at a risk of 1.5 or two times higher risk of breast cancer than people who do not have these risk factors. Hence, we do advocate a healthy lifestyle, stress-free life, healthy diet, physical exercises, aerobics, etc. A lot of clinical drug trials are focusing on the Asian and Indian populations these days to understand the cancer trends better. India is in most of the contemporary trials for breast cancer.”