General Health

Breast Cancer: Rising Cases, Screening, and Diagnosis


Breast cancer occurs due to the irregular growth of the cells in the breast. It is the second most common cancer after skin cancer and is generally found in women and rarely in men. For instance, in 2020, as per the data reported by World Health Organization, there were 2.30 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 6,85,000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.80 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer

For another instance, in 2021 according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) breast cancer has ranked the number one cancer among Indian females with age adjusted rate as high as 25.8 per 100,000 women and a mortality of 12.7 per 100,000 women.

The age-adjusted incidence rate of carcinoma of the breast was found as high as 41 per 100,000 women in Delhi, followed by Chennai (37.9), Bangalore (34.4), and Thiruvananthapuram District (33.7). A statistically significant increase in age-adjusted rate over time (1982-2014) in all the PBCRs namely Bangalore (annual percentage change: 2.84%), Barshi (1.87%), Bhopal (2.00%), Chennai (2.44%), Delhi (1.44%) and Mumbai (1.42%) was observed. Mortality-to-incidence ratio was found to be as high as 66 in rural registries whereas as low as 8 in urban registries. Data reports from various latest national cancer registries were compared for incidence and mortality rates.

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Besides this young age has been found as a major risk factor for breast cancer in Indian women. Breast cancer projection for India during the period 2020 suggests the number to go as high as 1797900. Better health awareness and availability of breast cancer screening programs and treatment facilities would cause a favorable and positive clinical picture in the country.

Signs and symptoms

Breast cancer most commonly presents as a painless lump or thickening in the breast. It is important that women finding an abnormal lump in the breast consult a health practitioner without a delay of more than 1-2 months even when there is no pain associated with it. Seeking medical attention at the first sign of a potential symptom allows for more successful treatment.

Generally, symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • a breast lump or thickening
  • alteration in size, shape, or appearance of a breast
  • dimpling, redness, pitting, or other alteration in the skin
  • change in nipple appearance or alteration in the skin surrounding the nipple (areola); and/or
  • abnormal nipple discharge.

There are many reasons for lumps to develop in the breast, most of which are not cancer. As many as 90% of breast masses are not cancerous. Non-cancerous breast abnormalities include benign masses like fibroadenomas and cysts as well as infections.

Breast cancer can present in a wide variety of ways, which is why a complete medical examination is important. Women with persistent abnormalities (generally lasting more than one month) should undergo tests including imaging of the breast and in some cases tissue sampling (biopsy) to determine if a mass is malignant (cancerous) or benign. Advanced cancers can erode through the skin to cause open sores (ulceration) but are not necessarily painful. Women with breast wounds that do not heal should have a biopsy performed. Breast cancers may spread to other areas of the body and trigger other symptoms. Often, the most common first detectable site of spread is the lymph nodes under the arm although it is possible to have cancer-bearing lymph nodes that cannot be felt. Over time, cancerous cells may spread to other organs including the lungs, liver, brain, and bones. Once they reach these sites, new cancer-related symptoms such as bone pain or headaches may appear.


Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. People with breast cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.

  • Surgery. An operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
  • Chemotherapy. Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
  • Hormonal therapy. Blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
  • Biological therapy. Works with your body’s immune system to help it fight cancer cells or to control side effects from other cancer treatments.
  • Radiation therapy. Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer cells.

Screening methods

Breast cancer screening is for looking for signs of breast cancer before the person has its symptoms. Screening is really important as it let us know when the can be cancer treated or cured. Screening also lets us know about the size of cancer, that how small or big is the cancer. This cancer may also lead to death or illness in some part of their lives.

The breasts cancer screening test are as follows-

  1. Mammogram- A mammogram is called an X-ray of the breast. This test lets women about breast cancer early and when it is easier to treat before the cancer grows bigger.
  2. Breast Magnetic Resonance- Breast magnetic resonance used a magnet and radio waves to take pictures of breasts. Breast MRI along with mammograms are used to screen women who are at higher risk for getting breast cancer, they both are used in combination as breast magnetic resonance may show no cancer even if, there is no cancer.
  3. Other Exams- Clinical breast exams consist of doctors or nurses using their hands to feel the lumps in a given area.


Making changes in your daily life may help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Try to:

  • Ask your doctor about breast cancer screening. Discuss with your doctor when to begin breast cancer screening exams and tests, such as clinical breast exams and mammograms. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of screening. Together, you can decide what breast cancer screening strategies are right for you.
  • Become familiar with your breasts through a breast self-exam for breast awareness. Women may choose to become familiar with their breasts by occasionally inspecting their breasts during a breast self-exam for breast awareness. If there is a new change, lumps, or other unusual signs in your breasts, talk to your doctor promptly. Breast awareness can’t prevent breast cancer, but it may help you to better understand the normal changes that your breasts undergo and identify any unusual signs and symptoms.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink a day if you choose to drink.
  • Exercise most days of the week. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. If you haven’t been active lately, ask your doctor whether it’s OK and start slowly.
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy. Combination hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone therapy. Some women experience bothersome signs and symptoms during menopause and, for these women, the increased risk of breast cancer may be acceptable to relieve menopause signs and symptoms. To reduce the risk of breast cancer, use the lowest dose of hormone therapy possible for the shortest amount of time.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If your weight is healthy, work to maintain that weight. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy strategies to accomplish this. Reduce the number of calories you eat each day and slowly increase the amount of exercise.
  • Choose a healthy diet. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet focuses mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, over butter, and fish instead of red meat.


Ritika Gupta

Ritika Gupta is an MPharm. graduate who is keen on spreading awareness about various unexplored medical fields through her writings.

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