Sex may permeate our popular culture, but conversations about it are still associated with stigma and shame in Indian households. As a result, most individuals dealing with sexual health issues or trying to find information about sex often resort to unverified online sources or follow the unscientific advice of their friends.
To address the widespread misinformation about sex, News18.com is running this weekly sex column, titled ‘Let’s Talk Sex’, every Friday. We hope to initiate conversations about sex through this column and address sexual health issues with scientific insight and nuance.
The column is being written by Sexologist Prof (Dr) Saransh Jain. In today’s column, Dr Jain explains penile and breast cancer and preventive steps you can take to offset the risk.
What is Penile Cancer?
Penile cancer, also known as cancer of the penis, is a relatively rare form of cancer that affects the skin and tissues of the penis. It occurs when normally healthy cells in the penis become cancerous and begin to grow out of control, forming a tumour.
Symptoms of Penile Cancer
People with penile cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs:
• A growth or sore on the penis, especially on the glans or foreskin, but cancer can also occur on the shaft
• Changes in the colour of the penis
• Thickening of the skin on the penis
• Persistent discharge with a foul odour beneath the foreskin
• Blood from the tip of the penis or from under the foreskin
• Unexplained pain in the shaft or tip of the penis
• Irregular or growing bluish-brown flat lesions or marks beneath the foreskin or on the penis
• Reddish, velvety rash beneath the foreskin
• Small, crusty bumps beneath the foreskin
• Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
• Irregular swelling at the end of the penis
Risk Factors and Prevention
Knowing the risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make a more informed lifestyle and healthcare choice. The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing penile cancer:
• HPV infection: The most important risk factor for penile cancer is infection with this virus. Sexual activity with a person who has HPV (Human papillomavirus) is the most common way to get it. A condom cannot fully protect you from HPV during sex. HPV vaccines can prevent you from developing certain cancers.
• Smoking: Smoking tobacco may lead to penile cancer, especially in people who also have HPV.
• Age: Penile cancer is most common in people older than 50.
• Poor penile hygiene: Poor penile hygiene increases the chances of chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer.
• HIV/AIDS: Infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a risk factor for penile cancer. HIV is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). When a person has HIV, the immune system is compromised to fight off early-stage cancer.
• Psoriasis treatment: The drug psoralen combined with ultraviolet (UV) light may increase the risk of developing penile cancer.
• Lifestyle factors: Not smoking and avoiding sexual practices that could lead to an HPV or HIV/AIDS infection can help lower your risk of penile cancer.
• Personal hygiene: Carefully and completely cleaning the area under the foreskin on a regular basis can lower the risk of developing penile cancer.
• Circumcision: Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the human penis. Circumcision before adulthood appears to provide some protection from penile cancer. However, it is important to note that circumcision reduces but does not eliminate the risk of penile cancer.
If you have symptoms of penile cancer, schedule an appointment with a doctor or urologist as soon as possible.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. It is the most common invasive cancer in women. It can start in one or both breasts. Cancer begins when healthy cells in the breast change and grow out of control, forming a mass or sheet of cells called a tumour.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Majority of women with breast cancer do not show any changes in body or symptoms when they are first diagnosed with breast cancer. However, some early signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:
• A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
• Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
• Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
• Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple or breast skin
• Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange
• Pain in the breast that does not go away
• Inverted nipple and nipple discharge
Risk Factors and Prevention
If you are concerned about developing breast cancer, you might be wondering if there are steps you can take to help prevent it. Some risk factors, such as family history, cannot be changed. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk. Also, those who are 55 or above are at a greater risk of breast cancer. Also, women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men. Here are some preventive steps you can take:
• Limit alcohol: The more your alcohol intake, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer.
• Maintain a healthy weight: If your weight is healthy, work to maintain it. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy strategies to accomplish this. Reduce the number of calories you eat each day and slowly increase the amount of regular exercise.
• Be physically active: Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which helps prevent breast cancer.
• Breast-feed: Breast-feeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.
• Limit Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy: Combination hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of hormone therapy.
• Radiation exposure: If you’ve had prior radiation therapy especially on your head, neck or chest, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer.
Be vigilant, if you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a new lump or skin changes, consult your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.