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'Bras and antiperspirants don't cause cancer'

By Dr Shona Nag
March 22, 2017 12:04 IST
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'Obesity is the main reason for the increasing rates of breast cancer among women.

'The risk is the same for a house help living in a crowded slum in Borivali (a suburb in Mumbai) to the woman in living in a plush fancy apartment in South Mumbai.'

Ten minutes of discomfort to get yourself analysed can help save your life, says oncologist Dr Shona Nag.

IMAGE: In 2005, Australian actor-singer Kylie Minogue was detected with breast cancer. She was 37 at the time.
Photograph: Matt Dunham/ Reuters

Breast cancer in India is very different from the cases in the West. While women in the West are detected in their 60s and 70s, in India, signs of breast cancer are visible in the early 30s leading to a higher loss of productive life.

Cases of cancers in India are also visibly more aggressive.

In the West, only 15 per cent of the cases are advanced. In India, this number is high at 35 per cent.

Most of the cancers detected reach us in the 3rd or the 4th advanced stages where the cancer has spread to the chest and lungs unlike the West.

Screening in the West is mandatory leading to better detection and over diagnosis. In India however, screening needs to be made mandatory or at least higher awareness for women to screen themselves regularly. 

While it's still not as common, breast cancer cases are shooting up with over 1,60,000 new cases being detected annually in India and the number is only growing rapidly. More and more cases are being detected in urban India with Bangalore being crowned as the breast cancer capital of India. 

Here are some tips of how you can prevent yourself from being one of the statistics of cancer. 

Examine yourself regularly

A self-breast exam is required every month. Preferably after your menstrual cycle, when your breasts are not sore or tender.

Teach yourself how to do one via the Internet if needed.

It's also advisable annually to see your gynecologist or a clinical physician so they can do a breast examination thoroughly.  

Once you are sexually active, a pap smear test every three years or a pap smear with an HPV DNA test every five years is a must.

This will help in identifying if there are any cancerous strains that can be removed by biopsy and can be addressed immediately.

It may be 10 minutes of discomfort to get a pap smear test done -- but luckily, for us women, our cancers (breast and cervix) are superficial and lend themselves to screening easily.

It's not as easy for men to screen themselves for prostrate or lung cancer as it is for women. We are the luckier gender and we should take complete advantage of it. 

Be fit and healthy 

Obesity is the main reason for the increasing risk rates of breast cancer among women.

Do not allow yourself to put on weight.

Push yourself to exercise and enjoy everything in moderation -- be it drinking or junk food. 

Everything in our body is interlinked. Excess weight impacts diabetes, heart diseases and increases issues with how our bones function.

It's proven that cancer patients with osteoporosis have a tougher time dealing with cancer treatment than others.

Thirty minutes of exercise every day once you are in your 20s is a must. 

In two large ethnic studies done by the Tata Memorial Hospital and the Jehangir Clinical Development Centre, Pune, what has been starkly visible is that increased waist circumference or central obesity has a very strong link with increased risks with cancer. 

Turmeric is the key 

Turmeric is the most well-known, anti-cancerous agent liberally used in the Indian diet.

Eat home-cooked meals every day to raise your body's immunity. Let's go back to our age old traditions which served us well.  

Do not neglect your health or push your symptoms under the carpet 

Educated women have been seen to neglect issues relating to their health.

We have had cases where lumps have been detected by women and they have chosen not to come forth for treatment.

This loss of three to four months makes all the difference between cancer being detected and treated to a full-blown stage 3 or 4 cancer treatment which pushes your rates of survival.

So shrug off the negative attitude because cancer can be treated.

I was shocked recently, when a nurse who had been detected but refused chemotherapy came to us with a hole in her chest where the tumour was.

She had been hiding it due to her fear of being able to deal with it.

Urban women are at higher risk due to pollution, pesticides and chemicals

Numbers showcase this divide.

One in 22 women in urban India is at the risk of breast cancer, while that number drops to 1 in 66 for women living in villages just 100 km away from the city.

The risk is the same for a househelp living in a crowded slum in Borivali (a suburb in Mumbai) to the woman in living in a plush fancy apartment in South Mumbai -- no difference to risk factors despite a big difference in their living conditions.

The pollution, chemicals, pesticides seen in urban metros besides processed food is a key reason for this.

Bust the myths: Bras and antiperspirants don't cause cancer

It is scientifically proven that bras and antiperspirants do not cause cancer with multiple studies done across the world.

Hygiene is key and you must practice good habits of keeping underarms and private areas clean.

While in the UK and US, cervical cancer has been eradicated, India carries the burden of one third of the world cervical cancer among women.

Hygiene is absolutely essential for a woman's well being.

The author, Dr Shona Nag is the head of the oncology department at Jehangir Hospital, Pune and visiting consultant for K.E.M Hospital, Mumbai. She also runs the Nag Foundation that focusses on cancer research and awareness. 

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Dr Shona Nag