Updated: Apr 21
In early school years, my mother asked me what sport I'd like to take up. I said "Chess is a sport" and so she sent me to play tennis. Being a parent means making tough choices for the benefit of your children. It also means being brave enough to discuss uncomfortable questions. It means being informed of facts yourself, so you can teach right. It means leading by example.
When it comes to breast cancer, there's no vaccine for prevention yet, but these few changes may go a long way to help your daughters.
1) Don't live in denial; don't let your daughters either.
If you think "Its not going to happen to my daughter" you can imagine that no cancer patient's mother thought otherwise either. Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer of women in India today. Some of our daughters are going to be caught on the wrong side of the cancer statistic and you can't "wish it away". Yet most breast cancer can be cured with timely diagnosis and modern treatments. The idea is not to live in fear, but to make wise choices to better your chances.
2) Have the "breast self-exam" talk.
If you've had the "lets buy you a bra" conversation with your daughter, go ahead and add "self-breast exams" to the list of pending talks. Ask your doctor to initiate the discussion if you need help. Go over a copy of an instruction sheet or share a video with her. Of course when she asks "Mom, do you do this?" be prepared to say "Yes!" Remember breast exams are not supposed to be difficult. It about getting used to feeing whats normal for you so that anything that's new or different from before, can be noted and brought to medical attention.
3) Share your family history with her
Its important for your daughter to know any cancer history on both your side, as well as her fathers side of the family tree. Family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, increases a woman's risk of breast cancer. If you have multiple family members with cancer, family members diagnosed at at a young age, triple-negative breast cancers, ovarian cancers, men with breast cancer in your family, you're strongly advised to seek genetic counselling with a specialist.
4) Help her avoid excessive weight gain
Childhood obesity is associated with increased risk of several cancers later in life including colon and bladder. Weight gain during adulthood, increases risk of breast cancer after menopause. Healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle are easier developed early in life. Make sure as a family you eat right and stay active. Women with a diet rich in fruit and vegetables have fewer breast cancers than those with rich-fatty diets.
5) If she has a complaint, get her a specialist consult.
Most women delay seeking attention for breast concerns because they seem innocuous. Often when women are forthcoming, their complaints are dismissed without thorough investigations. "It doesn't hurt right? Its probably nothing." "I had these cysts when I was young, you probably have the same thing." These baseless assumptions can kill. Its always better to seek attention, be safe than sorry.
6) Help her get the facts: Breast cancer can occur at young age, during breast feeding and in pregnancy too
Breast cancer that occurs in pregnancy, breast feeding or in young women in general, is often diagnosed late. Not all changes in the breast are due to milk production or infections. If an infection doesn't promptly respond to treatment, it could be a sign of "inflammatory breast cancer" and not an infection at all. Cancers that occur in young women often tend to be aggressive and a delay in diagnosis can be fatal. Never try self-diagnosis and always seek expert help.
7) If you never got a mammogram, doesn't mean she shouldn't.
Breast cancer numbers appears to be increasing, this means your daughters' generation has a higher risk of cancer than yours. If you've had an unpleasant experience with mammography, know that techniques and expertise have greatly improved over the years. Let not your experience, or lack there-of dissuade your daughter from getting a test, that may be life -saving.When your daughter is close to 40, have her discuss getting regular mammography.
8) Encourage her to breastfeed when she has children
Breast feeding is important mainly for health of the baby, yet it also decreases the mother's risk of breast cancer. Remember that even if she has breastfed, this does not afford complete protection against cancer. Do not let this be a false sense of security.
9) Discourage her from smoking and drinking
Right, I don't need to tell you this- you've done that already. What she may not know is that even moderate alcohol consumption of 2 drinks a week can increase breast cancer risk.
10) Teach her to prioritise her health.
You put their own health on the back-burner while paying attention to work and family duties. Your daughters are at risk of emulating the same mistakes. Encourage her to undergo regular health checks, be attentive to her body and to never hesitate in seeking attention for health concerns. Tumours don't stop growing during holidays, during children's exams or when you're approaching a project deadline at work.
Note: The author, Dr Pranjali Gadgil is a breast surgeon and breast disease specialist practicing in Pune, India. This information is for general guidance, and reflects opinions and experience of the author. It is not intended to replace specialist consultation or provide treatment advice for specific cases.