Is your waist putting you at risk of Breast Cancer?

Since last decade breast cancer has been on a steady rise in India. It is now the most common cancer in many cities and 2nd common cancer in rural areas, accounting to 25% of all female malignancies. Increased incidence of breast carcinoma has been attributed to a variety of factors including obesity, decreased breastfeeding, alcohol consumption and smoking etc.

 

Though obesity has been long associated with the prevalence of breast cancer, it has traditionally been measured in BMI, ie the average distribution of fat all through the body. What BMI fails to do is to identify where the fat is actually accumulating.

 

According to a study published in BMJ, a woman’s waist size is a better predictor of breast cancer than BMI. The fat tissue around waist though more metabolically active, increases the production of estrogen in the body which accelerates the growth of breast tumor.

 

What does the research say?

Researchers from UCL University college, London studied 98,324 women of >50 postmenopausal age who had no history of breast cancer. These women were made to fill questionnaires detailing their history of health, height, weight, lifestyle and also their skirt sizes. The participants were followed up subsequently over years and their health, lifestyle and skirt sizes were documented. During the follow up 1090 women developed breast cancer.

 

The result showed that “Between 25 and postmenopausal age, an increase in Skirt Size by one unit every decade increased the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by 33% while decrease in Skirt Size was associated with lowering of risk.”

 

The Impact

Expanding waist has been associated with other forms of cancer in the past including that of pancreas, prostate, ovaries and cervix. It’s no surprise that the belly fat also plays a role in breast cancer.  But this result showed that the increase in skirt size, independent of BMI, increased the risk of breast cancer and that fat accumulated around waist is more dangerous than fat accumulated on other parts of the body.

 

This visceral fat can do more harm to a person’s body than the subcutaneous fat. Causing increased levels of estrogen, insulin resistance and fatty liver.

 

The Implication

Increase in waist size can be linked with the sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy food habits of this generation. With obesity emerging as a global epidemic, women now have a simple method to check their health and take action against it. Instead of going through the hassle of measuring their weight and height to measure their BMI, women can just measure the size of their waist.

 

With the discovery of this association between waist size and breast health, women now have the power to change the course of their health. They not only have to be made aware of the importance of their breast health but also informed that they can now take charge of their health and change the course of it.

 

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The Intervention

The only way to reduce belly fat is by doing regular exercise and burning it off. Regular exercising not only reduces the risk of breast cancer but also of other cardiovascular diseases. 30 mins of exercise 3-4 days a week is what is recommended for women.

 

By simple interventions like regular exercising, abstaining from alcohol and smoking and maintaining a healthy weight a woman can reduce her breast cancer risk by 20%-30%.

 

Breast Cancer Awareness Drive

During my training in America, doctors there used to ask me “Why doesn’t India have a Breast Cancer Screening Program?”
Well today, I can proudly say that we are working towards it. You always have to take small steps to fulfill big dreams and that is what we did yesterday by launching the W Pratiksha Hospital Cancer Awareness Drive.
I was happy to see the media supporting the project and giving it the importance it deserves.
We are going to having regular camps in the surrounding villages for the next six months and anyone who would like to volunteer is most welcome.

It was heartening to see one of my treated patients (a breast cancer conqueror) being felicitated during the event. She shared her thoughts with the media as well and told them about the importance of early detection and management.

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Excerpts of the Twitter chat on Stigma associated with Breast Cancer in India

After having been a part of numerous Google hangouts & twitter chats related to the global Breast cancer scenario in the past, I (@docrohan) finally got a chance to discuss the Indian scenario with a film-maker (who is in the process of shooting a film on breast cancer – @1001BCnights) & two Indian breast cancer survivors & breast cancer advocates (@lathasrinivasan & @alpana_u). We had an active twitter chat lasting almost one hour, where we discussed about the various issues being faced by breast cancer patients in India.

The excerpts of the twitter chat can be read by following this link – https://storify.com/Realtalkies/bcindia-twitter-chat

Our next chat is on 17th July and we expect another active & informative twitter chat on that day.

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