Indian actor Hina Khan‘s stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis has once again raised concern on breast cancer, which is the leading cancer among women in India but breast cancer can often be asymptomatic in its early stages where while a lump is a commonly known symptom, it is important to be aware of others that may seem less obvious. Every 1 in 8 women is diagnosed with breast cancer in their entire lifetime.

Hina Khan stage 3 breast cancer: What every woman needs to know about symptoms and screening (Photo by Nadezhda Moryak)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Prof SVS Deo, President – Association of Breast Surgeons of India (ABSI), cautioned, “Be mindful of any changes in your breast size, shape, or symmetry. Look for dimpling, puckering, or an ‘orange peel’ texture on the skin. Nipple retraction, unusual blood-stained discharge and persistent pain in any area of the breast are also potential warning signs. Familiarising yourself with your breasts is crucial for identifying these potential early warning signs.”

He suggested, “Performing a regular breast self-examination allows you to become acquainted with the baseline look and feel of your breasts, making it easier to detect any abnormalities that may occur. One should perform self-exams monthly, following your menstrual cycle. Using the pads of your fingers, examine your breasts for lumps, bumps, or areas of thickening. If you observe any changes, you should immediately reach out to a doctor. Early detection is key for successful breast cancer treatment. Simple and easily accessible investigations like mammograms can be done to rule out cancer.”

Patients are often faced with anxiety due to complex treatment procedures and potential outcomes and delayed consultation however, significant advancements in technology have transformed breast cancer treatment. Prof SVS Deo revealed, “Advanced technologies like fluorescence imaging provide surgeons with enhanced visualisation during surgery that helps with selective lymph node removal versus the traditional approach of complete node removal resulting in reduced post-operative complications like swelling of the arm known as lymphedema. Further, because the information is obtained real-time during the surgery, we can now prevent several complications proactively and reduce the overall cost of healthcare.”

Echoing that breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women, Dr Bhavisha Ghugare, Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology at HCG Cancer Centre in Borivali, said, “It is recommended that woman after the age of 40 should go for a mammogram at least once in a year. If detected timely, breast cancer is treatable, and the chances of recovery are higher. Depending on how far the disease has progressed, cancer can be graded in 0-4 stages. When breast cancer is detected, They are either removed surgically, (breast conservation surgery or mastectomy) or sometimes chemotherapy can be given first followed by surgery.”

Sharing a ray of hope, she said, “With technological advancements, breast cancer patients are getting successfully treated and hospital visits to get external radiotherapy have significantly reduced. In breast cancer, radiotherapy can be used for stage 1/stage 2 cancer patients. While there are options to get the disease treated successfully, it is very important to be mindful of any changes in the breast including lumps, yellow discharge, dimpling, puckering, or an ‘orange peel’ texture on the skin. Self examination is the key to identify the early symptoms of the disease and get timely treatment.”