Breast Cancer Becoming Common – How Can You Fight It?

Breast cancer is fast becoming the most common cancer in most cities of India and second most common in rural areas. It is also one of the leading causes of death in women.

Dr Geeta Kadayaprath, MS FRCS, head, Breast services (Surgical oncology), ex-fellow, Breast Unit, Royal Marsden Hospital, London, UK, Max Cancer Centre, Max Healthcare, New Delhi shares, “Breast cancer accounts for 25% to 32% of all female cancers in all the cities. This implies, practically, one fourth (or even approaching one thirds) of all female cancer cases are breast cancers. However, the most worrisome trend is the rising incidence of breast cancer in women aged between 30 – 40 years.”

In India, for every 2 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, one lady is dying of it. “Since more patients (in India) turn up in later stages, they do not survive long, irrespective of the best treatment they may get, and hence the mortality is fairly high,” Dr Anuradha Kapur, Lead consultant and Head of Unit, Max Super Specialty hospital, Saket. There are lots of reasons for this delay including lack of awareness, shyness on part of patients, social stigma and sometimes even ignorance of doctors where patients present on time, but doctors are not aware and they delay treatment.

Common myths associated with breast cancer

You have breastfed so you are safe

If you breast feed your baby, it is surely protective but does not necessary mean that it will shield you from the risk of breast cancer. It is only one of the risk factors.

Men don’t have breast cancer

Men do not have breast cancer is a myth. 1 percent of breast cancers in a year happen in men.

If you have a family history, you will have it

Only women with family history have breast cancer- only 5-10% of breast cancers are attributed to family history

Big breasted women have breast cancer

This is one of the most ridiculous myths related to breast cancer. Breast cancer can happen to anyone, irrespective of the breast size.

Signs to watch out for: Usually a painless lump; Nipple discharge which is bloody or clear from a single duct; Skin changes, such as dimpling or orange peel appearance of the skin or nipple retraction

Can you evade breast cancer?

While some factors are beyond our control, Dr. Neelesh Reddy, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Columbia Asia Hospitals points out five healthy lifestyle habits that can help lower breast cancer risk.

Maintain a healthy weight: Overweight or obese women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer than leaner women. This is because fat cells release substances including estrogen, which can stimulate cell growth and breast cancer. Regular exercise can also go a long way in improving your body’s metabolism and controlling weight.

Give up red meat: Studies have found that the risk of developing breast cancer is more with the increasing amounts of red meat. According to statistics, for every additional daily serving of red meat, the risk of breast cancer increases by 13% and by 54% in women consuming oral contraceptive pills. Instead, one can opt for fish. The Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients from fish help lower breast cancer risk.

Cut back on booze and avoid smoking: Avoiding alcohol is as important as losing weight. It has been proven that more alcohol you drink, greater you are at a risk of developing breast cancer. However, if you choose to drink alcohol — including beer, wine or liquor — try to limit yourself to no more than one – two drink/week. It has also been proven that smoking leads to increase in breast cancer. Also, since smoking is an important risk factor for cancer in general, it only makes sense to avoid it. Women who drink an average of 2 alcoholic beverages per day increase their breast cancer risk by 21%.

Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy: Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer. If you’re taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options. You may be able to manage your symptoms with non-hormonal therapies, such as physical activity.

Eat healthy and include fibers in your diet: Whether it comes from fruits, veggies or whole grains, fiber is good for breast health. Embrace a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in sugared drinks, refined carbohydrates and fatty foods. Eat lean protein such as fish or chicken breast and eat red meat in moderation, if at all. Eat whole grains. Choose vegetable oils over animal fats. Studies have found as much as a 5% reduction in breast cancer risk per every 10 grams of fiber added to a woman’s diet per day.

Avoid delaying motherhood: Women who delay having their first child until later in life or who never have children are at a higher risk for breast cancer. In contrast, having children at a younger age and breastfeeding decrease the risk of developing breast cancer

Is your bra responsible for breast cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, there is no evidence that compression of the lymph nodes by bras causes breast cancer.

“In reality, body fluids travel up and into the underarm lymph nodes, not towards the underwire. It was believed by many that underwired bras cause compression of lymphnodes and increase chances of breast cancer. Similarly, there is no sufficient evidence that any type of bra cause breast cancer. If the lady is overweight with large breasts, then the weight is a cause which can increase her risk of breast cancer but not the underwired bra she is wearing. It would make sense that women with larger breasts are both more likely to wear underwire bras and more likely to develop breast cancer. But this doesn’t mean that underwire bras cause breast cancer,” opines Dr Anuradha Kapur, Lead consultant and Head of Unit, Max Super Specialty hospital, Saket.

However, Sydney Ross Singer, Medical Anthropologist and Director at the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease, strongly disagrees, saying there are many studies showing a link, although this is inconvenient for the ACS, which unfortunately has no interest in this lifestyle solution to breast cancer.

“For 25 years I have been working on this issue, and numerous studies now support the bra-cancer link,” Singer told the LINK via email after reading this article online.

Singh, a medical anthropologist breast cancer researcher and co-author of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras, cited numerous studies that support the cancer link, including those listed below.


  • 1991 Harvard study (CC Hsieh, D Trichopoulos (1991). Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology 27(2):131-135.). This study found that, “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users…”
  • 1991-93 U.S. Bra and Breast Cancer Study by Singer and Grismaijer, published in Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Avery/Penguin Putnam, 1995; ISCD Press, 2005). Found that bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men. 24/7 bra wearing increases incidence over 100 times that of a bra-free woman.
  • Singer and Grismaijer did a follow-up study in Fiji, published in Get It Off! (ISCD Press, 2000). Found 24 case histories of breast cancer in a culture where half the women are bra-free. The women getting breast cancer were all wearing bras. Given women with the same genetics and diet and living in the same village, the ones getting breast disease were the ones wearing bras for work.
  • A 2009 Chinese study (Zhang AQ, Xia JH, Wang Q, Li WP, Xu J, Chen ZY, Yang JM (2009). [Risk factors of breast cancer in women in Guangdong and the countermeasures]. In Chinese. Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 2009 Jul;29(7):1451-3.) found that NOT sleeping in a bra was protective against breast cancer, lowering the risk 60%.
  •  2011 a study was published, in Spanish, confirming that bras are causing breast disease and cancer.  It found that underwired and push-up bras are the most harmful, but any bra that leaves red marks or indentations may cause disease.
  • 2015  Comparative study of breast cancer risk factors at Kenyatta National Hospital and the Nairobi Hospital     J. Afr. Cancer (2015) 7:41-46.  This study found a significant bra-cancer link in pre-and post-menopausal women.
  • 2016  Wearing a Tight Bra for Many Hours a Day is Associated with Increased Risk of Breast Cancer     Adv Oncol Res Treat 1: 105. This is the first epidemiological study to look at bra tightness and time worn, and found a significant bra-cancer link.

Singer said there has been resistance to this bra-cancer link for the past 25 years for economic and cultural reasons. The tobacco-cancer link was called a myth during the 1950’s for similar reasons. However, a medical institution should be honest about this issue, and inform women that there are studies that show bra wearing is linked to breast cancer, as well as to fibrocystic breast disease and breast pain.

“The sad fact that many cancer institutions are resisting this information does not erase the fact that studies show a link,” Singer said.

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