What you need to know about Breast Cancer

Facts & Stats

Breast cancer is a type of malignant tumor that affects the cells present in the breasts. The condition mostly occurs in women but in some cases it can also impact men. Breast cancer may affect the milk producing glands in a condition called lobular carcinoma. They may also impact the ducts in a condition called ductal carcinoma. Statistics reveal that about 1 in every 8 women run the risk of developing breast cancer in her life. Most of the women having breast cancer are more than 55years old. The rest of the patients are mainly between the ages of 35 and 54. Breast cancer remains the second most frequently occurring cancer among women.

Symptoms

These are the main symptoms of breast cancer.

  • Formation of lump in the breasts or thickening which feels different when compared to the surrounding area
  • Inverting of nipples and a change from the earlier appearance
  • Bloody nipple discharge and/or redness
  • Nipple or breast pain
  • Dimpling or swelling of certain parts of the breast; formation of orange-peel texture of the skin
  • Skin of the breasts undergoing changes
  • Sore nipples
  • Swollen lymph nodes noticeable in the armpit or neck
  • Changes in the shape or size of the nipple or breast

It is to be noted that the symptoms may vary from one patient to another.

Stages

The progression of breast cancer is divided into multiple stages starting from 0 to IV, with 0 being the least advanced and IV being the most advanced. Stage 0: This stage is ascribed to cases where the doctors have been able to diagnose it early. It is localized in the milk glands or breast ducts. By Stage I, the cancer has become invasive. During the Stage II, the cancer has grown or spread. As the patient reaches Stage III, the cancer has not yet spread to the organs or bones, but it is still considered advanced, thus harder to treat. Stage IV is the last stage of cancer when the breast cancer cells have spread at distances far away from breasts and the lymph nodes right around it. Common sites impacted by this are lungs, bones, brain and liver. It is aptly described as “metastatic”.

Causes

While the exact causes that lead to breast cancer are not clear, doctors have recognized certain risk factors that may lead to it. There are factors that cannot be changed or controlled by any person and there are some instances that can be changed. Some of these are mentioned below.

  • History of breast cancer
  • Direct family history
  • Dense breasts
  • Breast lesions
  • Genetics
  • Abnormal breast biopsy detected previously
  • Radiation treatment
  • Reproductive history
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Having little to no exercise
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Other types of cancer in family history

Diagnosis

Doctors typically recommend a self exam to see if there are any lumps in the breasts or any kind of changes. A mammogram can be carried out to check for breast lumps that can be detected up to two years prior to the time they can be physically detected. There are also different tests which can help to determine if the lump is a cancer. The doctor can also carry out tests to see the current condition of the lymph nodes for checking the extent to which the cancer has spread. A surgical breast biopsy or needle aspiration test is the only way for definitively concluding that a person has breast cancer. Other tests that are also used include breast ultrasounds and breast MRIs.

Treatment

The treatment procedure that will be chosen by the doctor will depend on the type of the breast cancer that you have; the stage of the condition and whether your tumor cells are receptive to HER2 protein, progesterone and estrogen. Your age and general health condition is also going to influence the treatment choice. The main forms of treatment for breast cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. The doctor can also combine different types of therapy to make sure that you have the best results. A number of drugs are going to be used for breast cancer treatment.

Prevention

Since the exact factors responsible for breast cancer are not known, there is very little a person can ever do to prevent breast cancer. However, one can still quit smoking, stop drinking alcohol, maintain a healthy body weight and live an active life to reduce the chances of breast cancer. In the recent times, the medical community has come up with certain methods to minimize the possibility of breast cancer. These include chemoprevention and the use of medications like aromatase inhibitors. However, even though they do reduce the propensity of breast cancer, they do not offer foolproof protection against the condition.