Breast cancer is the one of commonest types of cancers amongst women. About every one in eight women suffer from breast cancer; an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of breast tissue cells. This uncontrolled growth leads to tumor formation that can be felt as a lump or detected on an X-ray. Although breast cancer mostly occurs in women, in rare cases it is also seen in men.
Breast cancers vary depending on their ability to spread to surrounding tissues. The exact cause of breast cancer is not yet clear, but several risk factors have been identified. Diagnosis is performed by physical examination, ultrasound, mammography, and biopsy. Treatment depends on the stage and type of cancer and may involve surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. There has been a tremendous rise in breast cancer awareness, leading to a better prognosis and survival rate.
Currently, medical science does not know the exact cause of breast cancer. It occurs due to DNA damage in breast cells, although the mechanism of DNA damage is unknown.
There are certain risk factors that make some women more prone to this type of cancer.
- Race: It is found to be more common in Caucasians.
- Family History: If your mother, sister, or aunt has been diagnosed with breast cancer you are at a higher risk of being diagnosed in the future.
- Changes in Genes: Mutations in genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Environmental and Lifestyle Factors
- Age: Commonly, invasive cancers are detected after the age of 55 years. The may be because of the DNA damage that has occurred over several years.
- Menstrual History and Reproductive Health: Early onset of menstruation, before 12 years of age, or late menopause, after 55 years, increases the risk. If you haven’t given birth to a child or have given birth at a late age, the risk increases.
- No Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle along with an unhealthy diet.
- Obesity: Being overweight, especially post-menopause.
- Radiation: Exposure to radiation on the chest area before 30 years of age.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Breast Lump: The most common symptom is a painless lump in the breast. However, it is important to note that most breast lumps are non-cancerous. They are mainly fluid filled cysts that are benign. Other symptoms that can occur in the affected breast include the following:
- Changes in size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or thickening of the skin over the breast
- Nipple becomes inverted
- Blood stained or clear discharge from nipple without pregnancy
- Rarely, breast pain
Usually, breast cancer spreads to the lymph glands in the axilla or armpit. If this happens, you may notice a swelling in the armpit.
Management of Breast Cancer
Primary treatment for early stage breast cancer is surgery followed by chemotherapy, radiation, biological therapy, or hormonal therapy. Management usually consists of a combination of these approaches, which widely vary depending on the stage the cancer was diagnosed.
The following points are considered when physicians evaluate the appropriate treatment for patients:
- The stage and grade of cancer or how far has it spread
- General health status of the individual
- Whether the person has gone through menopause
Surgery is the commonest treatment. There are two types of surgeries- breast conserving surgery and total breast removal i.e. mastectomy. In breast conserving surgery, only a part of the breast tissue is removed, the extent of which is determined by the size and location of the lump. Mastectomy involves the complete removal of breast tissue.
This involves the destruction of cancerous cells with high energy rays targeting the tissue. This treatment is given by focusing a beam of radiation on the affected local area and can even extend to the adjoining lymph nodes, which is determined by the surgical team. Radiation therapy is normally given for 5 days a week for 5-6 weeks.
This involves medications that travel through the blood stream to reach the targeted cancerous cells. These medications are administered either intravenously or orally. Many different types of chemotherapeutic agents are currently present, which are either given alone or in combination.