Breast Cancer Incidence Increasing in Younger Women in Urban Areas:
Most young women do not care about regular screening and some even tend to ignore
warning signs because they believe they are too young to suffer from breast cancer
New Delhi, Oct 2015: You are never too young to suffer from breast cancer! Even
though, almost 90% of breast cancer cases occur in women above 50 years of age,
increasing number of younger women are today being diagnosed with the disease,
especially in urban areas and metropolitan cities.
“Breast cancer has already overtaken cervical cancer to become the leading cause of
cancer related deaths in Indian women. Apart from its increasing incidence, the profile
of patients and the disease has also displayed change in recent years. Besides, breast
cancer in younger women can be aggressive and less likely to respond to treatment.
Women who are diagnosed at a younger age also are more likely to have a mutated
BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes which present poor prognosis,” says Dr Meenu Walia, Director –
Medical Oncology, Max Super Specialty Hospital, Patparganj.
In 2013, American researchers analyzed cancer registry data between 1976 and 2009
and concluded that there was a steady rise in number of younger women reporting
more aggressive forms of cancer over these years.
“While there is no such comprehensive analysis or study conducted in India, clinical
evidence suggests that breast cancer occurrence has increased in relatively younger
women today. Unlike a decade back when most women patients diagnosed with breast
cancer were above 50, today more women under 50 years of age are being diagnosed
with the disease. Breast cancer in younger women can be aggressive and are more likely
to have an associated genetic cancer syndrome,” says Dr Rajat Saha, Consultant,
Medical Oncology, Max Superspeciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi.
According to estimates of WHO, roughly 144,937 women in India were detected with
breast cancer in 2012 and 70,218 died of it, making it one death for every two new
diagnoses. With the incidence of the disease rising by more than 20% since 2008, India is
expected to have a whopping 200,000 new cases of breast cancer per year by 2030.
“There is also a rural urban gap to this disease. While in cities and urban areas, breast
cancer is the most common cancer in females, in villages cervical cancer is still the most
common. This also points to the fact that urban behaviors and lifestyle have some
Need to Stay Alert After 25
contribution to the increasing incidence of the disease. Lifestyle factors such as
excessive weight, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol intake are associated with increased
risk of breast cancer,” says Dr Meenu Walia.
The good news is that more patients today, as compared to 10 years back, are
presenting in early stages owing to better awareness of the disease. This is important as
these early stage patients require less treatment and the cure rates are very high.
However, the percentage of early diagnosed patients is still abysmally low. This means
that as many as 60% of the patients present at stage III or stage IV when it is too late to
treat the disease or prolong the life of the person.
“At the same time urban behavioral patterns such as delayed pregnancies, reduced
duration of breastfeeding, use of oral contraceptives, increased consumption of
processed food as well as some form of environmental toxicity that may be causing
genetic mutation, are believed to have increased risk,” adds Dr Saha.
Both doctors agree that unfortunately most younger women do not care about regular
screening and some even tend to ignore warning signs because they believe they are too
young to suffer from breast cancer. In its very initial phase, breast cancer doesn’t
present any symptoms; the earliest symptoms that may manifest include a painless
lump in the breast, unusual discharge from the nipple, a change in the breast shape or
size, or swelling or lump in the breast or underarm area. Any notable abnormality in the
breast should be immediately reported to a doctor and evaluated for further
Stay Alert Once You Turn 25
Almost half of the breast cancer deaths in India can be preventable if the disease is
presented on time. This highlights the lack of awareness among people as well as a
complete absence of a mass screening program. Regular screening not only saves lives
by diagnosing the disease at an early stage, but also allows doctors to undertake less
disfiguring surgeries and less toxic treatments, with higher chances of cure.
Monthly self examination starting at 25 years of age: Once in a month after
completion of menstrual bleeding, it is recommended that you conduct a self
examination to rule out any lump, or change in shape of your breast area.
Clinical breast examination is recommended every 3 years after one turns 25
Clinical Breast Examination with mammography yearly after the age of 40 years.