-Dr. Manish Singhal, one of the best oncologist in Delhi NCR
According to WHO, breast cancer has become the most common cancer in the world, overtaking lung cancer.
In the past decades, the overall number of people diagnosed with cancer has nearly doubled. From an estimated 10 million in 2000, the number has gone up to 19.3 million in 2020.
Out of all the types of cancers, breast cancer has become a major health concern across Indian cities, especially metros like Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, etc.
The alarming fact is every 4 minutes an Indian woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and every 13 minutes a woman succumbs to it.
In a turn of events, the rate of breast cancer has been on the rise among women in their 30s & 40s, an unprecedented group before.
Why is breast cancer increasing in India?
According to experts, the incidence of breast cancer is increasing due to a rapid change in lifestyle and population demographics in India.
The risk factors are getting more intuned with life as we know it. They include genetics (about 10%), heredity, sedentary lifestyle, late or no pregnancy, oral contraception, late marriage, early menstruation, late menopause, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, obesity, stress, poor diet, and much more.
You must have noticed we put late marriage among the risk factors. Why? And can early marriage reduce breast cancer risks?
Can Early Marriage Save You from Breast Cancer?
First off, by early marriage, we mean timely marriage. Why is timely marriage important? Because with timely marriage comes a timely start of a family, i.e., childbearing.
It is well known that the amount of exposure to oestrogen, the female hormone, is directly proportional to the risk of breast cancer.
Early menstruation (before 11yrs) means an early introduction of oestrogen, and late menopause means the extended effect of the hormone on the body. Both can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Not only that, but if the childbearing is delayed, it also exposes the female to high oestrogen levels for a longer duration of time . This increases the risk of breast cancer.
When women are pregnant, the menstrual cycle stops. Even breastfeeding is a type of natural contraception. So, generally, from the time a woman gets pregnant till the time she breastfeeds, the natural cycle doesn’t start.
Mothers should breastfeed for at least up to 2 years. So, even after pregnancy, you can expect there is no menstrual flow for that period and hence the body is not exposed to oestrogen. Pregnancy plus breastfeeding, so that’s about 3 years.
In India, most people have at least 2 children. So, it is expected that for about 6 years a woman’s body is not exposed to oestrogen.
High exposure to oestrogen definitely leads to a higher risk of breast cancer.
In yesteryears when women used to give too many babies, there were very few cases of breast cancer.
Life expectancy is increasing, even with the risk of breast cancer, but it is clear that the number of children or parity, meaning the number of children is inversely proportional to the breast cancer risk.
So, yes, early marriage and early family planning can decrease the incidence of breast cancer by decreasing the exposure to oestrogen.
Remember plastic that causes cancer also has BPA bisphenol A, which is also a type of oestrogen. We come in contact with plastic every day and even unintentionally consume some. This also adds oestrogen to the body increasing cancer risk.
Oestrogen, while necessary for the body, should only be there in moderation. That is why even hormonal imbalances can be risky. Many studies relating the same are being published from Japan, the Swedish cancer registry, Visakha cooperative, etc. These findings are also found in population-based Cancer registries.