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Cancer is the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells in a particular body part. With continued growth, pieces of this tissue travel through the blood to different body parts and continue to grow in the new area. This is known as metastases. Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer and affects about 1 in 8 women in the USA. Read on to know more details of breast cancer – breast anatomy, causes, symptoms, risk factors, detection, prevention, and of course treatment.
Anatomy: The main function of the breast is lactation through its milk-producing tissue that are connected to the nipple by narrow ducts. In addition, there is surrounding connective tissue, fibrous material, fat, nerves, blood vessels and lymphatic channels which complete the structure. This is essential to know as most breast cancers develop as small calcifications (hardened particles) in the ducts or as small lumps in the breast tissue which then continues to grow into cancer. The spread can happen through lymphatic or blood flow to other organs.
Warning signs/symptoms: The following are some symptoms that need to be watched out for if you have a predisposition to breast cancer.
- A lump in either of the breasts or armpits
- Change in size, shape, or contour of either breast
- Redness of your breast or nipple
- Discharge of clear or bloody fluid
- Thickening of breast tissue or skin that lasts through a period
- Altered look or feel of the skin on the breast or the nipple (dimpled, inflamed, scaly, or puckered)
- One area on the breast that looks very different from the other areas
- Hardened area under the breast skin
Either one or a combination of these should be an indication to get a detailed checkup done. Early diagnosis results in controlling the disease with minimal treatment and reduced complications.
Causes and risk factors: The exact cause for breast cancer is yet to be pinned down. However, risk factors are clearly identified, and women with risk factors need to watch out for warning signs.
- Family history: Of all the risk factors, the family history is the most important. Breast cancer runs in families, and if there is a first-degree relative with the breast cancer, the chances of developing it are almost double. Two genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the carriers of the disease, and this testing can be done in women to identify if they are at risk.
- Family history of other cancers: Even if there is no breast cancer, if there are other cancers that run in the family, watch out.
- Age: Women over 50 are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
- Race: Caucasian and Jewish women are at higher risk of breast cancer than African-American women.
- Hormones: Greater exposure to the female hormone estrogen increases the chances of developing breast cancer. Women who use birth control pills for contraception and hormone replacement after menopause are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
- Gynecologic milestones: Women who have abnormal menstrual milestones need to watch out. These include those who attain menarche before 12 years of age, get pregnant after 30, attain menopause after 55, and have menstrual cycles shorter than 26 days or longer than 29 days.
- Obesity and alcohol abuse are also likely to increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.
Stages: Starting from stage 0, higher stages indicate advanced disease.
- Stage 0: The growth which has begun in the milk-producing tissue or the ducts has remained there (in situ) and not spread to any other area, including the rest of the breast.
- Stage I: The tissue slowly becomes invasive and has begun to affect the surrounding healthy tissue. It could have spread to the fatty breast tissue and some breast tissue may be found in the nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage II: The cancer at this stage grows considerably or spreads to other parts. There are chances that cancer may grow and also spread.
- Stage III: It may have spread to the bones or other organs but small amounts are present in up to 9 to 10 of the lymph nodes in the armpits and collar bones which makes it is difficult to fight.
- Stage IV: The cancer is widespread to far-flung areas like the liver, lungs, bones, and even the brain.
Screening: This is one of the most effective ways to identify the disease in its early stages. This will help in controlling cancer from spreading with minimal treatment.
- Self-examination: A thorough self-examination to look for changes in terms of shape, size, colour, contour, and firmness should be learned by all women. Watch for any discharge, sores, rashes, or swelling in the breasts, surrounding skin, and nipple. Examine them while standing and when lying down.
- In most women, annual screening mammograms are advised after the age of 40. However, in women who have a strong family history or genetic makeup, it is advisable to have screening mammograms starting at age 20 every 3 years and then annually from the age of 40.
- Women in high-risk categories should have screening mammograms every year and typically start at an earlier age.
- Ultrasound screening can also be given in addition to mammograms.
- Breast MRI is another way to screen for breast cancer if the risk is greater.
Breast Cancer Prevention: Now that there is so much awareness about causes and risk factors, there are definitely ways to prevent or delay the onset of the disease.
- Exercise and a healthy diet with reduced amount of alcohol are definitely effective in minimising the chances of developing cancer.
- Tamoxifen is used in women who are at high risk for breast cancer.
- Evista (raloxifene) which is used to treat osteoporosis after menopause. It is also widely used in preventing breast cancer.
- In high-risk women, breasts are surgically removed to prevent the development of cancer (preventive mastectomy).
Treatment: As with all cancers, treatment would depend on the stage at which it is identified and include a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. As noted earlier, if you are at risk, look out for warning signs as early diagnosis is the key to maximum recovery.
There was an era where we had deadly infections like plague and polio causing death of thousands of people. We still have occasional outbreak of swine flu, but by and large, infections are quite controlled. The new killer diseases are caused because of the lifestyle we have adapted and the damage we have done to the environment. High intake of processed foods, artificial chemicals in our foods, sedentary lifestyle with very minimal to no physical activity, couching over the computers; the list is quite long.
Detailed observation has revealed that both these new epidemiologic diseases have a close correlation. There are factors, which induce diabetes and diabetes in turn and in some cases, diabetes inducing agents, can cause cancer also. It has also been observed that mortality is severely increased if diabetic patients are diagnosed with cancer. There are two types of diabetes. While type 1 is mostly hereditary, type 2 is lifestyle induced and the age at which this is being diagnosed is taking a severe plunge. Adolescents and teenagers are being diagnosed for diabetes. Cancer, on the other hand, is of various types (leukaemia, melanoma, myeloma, etc.) and can affect various organs (lung, breast, prostate, stomach, liver, etc.).
The medical community is yet to decipher the disease pattern of both these conditions. While there is no definite correlation between diabetes and all types of cancer, some types of cancer are definitely correlated with a definite reason identified, pancreatic and liver cancer for instance. The high amounts of insulin that diabetic patients are exposed to causes changes in liver and pancreas including fatty liver and cirrhosis, here the incidence of cancer is higher. The linkage is not very clear in lung and intestinal cancers and also there is no link between prostate cancer and diabetes.
Diabetes is considered as a state of chronic inflammation and leads to conditions like hyperinsulinemia (higher levels of insulin in the blood) hyperglycemia (higher levels of sugar in the blood). These are believed to aggravate the neoplastic process of cancer formation, thereby inducing cancer at a greater pace and also increasing the mortality rates.
The following are risk factors that are applicable to both age, physical activity, diet, obesity, drinking and smoking. It is also possible that onset of one can be followed by the other. As noted earlier, more detailed research is awaited to establish a definite linkage, but the correlation cannot be ignored at all.
Both these new epidemics are here to stay and since they have a common set of factors, we need to work on ways to contain them.
In case you have a concern or query you can always consult an expert & get answers to your questions!
Before 9 month my father 1st time diagnosed with MULTIPLE MYELOMA at that time his blood plasma was 15%. 24 weeks treatment was given to him with BORTECAD 2mg (cadila pharma) Injection. Now doctor saying that its response is good and no more chemo therapy is required just to continue some other medicines. Now can he live a life as before or is there any other factors for which we need to be worried? Now his age is 61.
My grand ma is suffering from oral cancer in 2nd second and doctor suggest to do oral surgery and we go for it. Doctors told me after discharge she had no food for 3 months. Is it true are not. And which is better option to do so.
I'm 28 years old with maternal family history of breast cancer. Recently I found some small lump in my right breast in the lower lateral quadrant. My periods are irregular and my breasts are generally tender one wk before the onset of periods till the 2rd day of menstruation. I got a mammogram ultrasound and fnac done which diagnosed it as benign breast lesion which is 22 mm which can be fibroadenoma. My doctor said it can be chronic cystic mastitis. And suggested a therapeutic test with danazol 100 mg thrice daily and vit E 200 mg once daily. Now my doubts are can I continue the steroid treatment? Will the lump resolve? Will there be any side effects after using danazol. Or should I get the lump excised. Please suggest.
What are the causes for breast cancer in female and may I know the symptoms for that? And how can we get rid of that type of cancer?
Are you aware of the link between air pollution and cancer? Air pollution refers to the mixture of several harmful substances, which lead to various serious health hazards on exposure. The primary sources of air pollution are man-made, including fumes from automobiles and the smoke from burning fuels. Desert dust, radon gas, and several other natural sources of air pollution are equally dangerous. Air pollution is classified into outdoor and indoor air pollution. It is highly associated with increased risks of developing cancer. Smoking is considered to be one of the major agents, which pollute the air and increase the chances of cancer to a large extent.
Outdoor air pollution
- Outdoor air pollution is strongly linked with cancer development.
- As every person is exposed to some form of air pollution, it has a more harmful effect on the whole population across the globe as a general threat.
- A certain part of outdoor air pollution referred to as PM 2.5, or solid dust particles, are highly responsible for the development of cancer.
- The chances of cancer increase with the increase in PM 2.5 levels in the air.
Indoor air pollution
- There are several sources of indoor air pollution that are closely associated with an increased risk of cancer.
- The sources include fuels used for heating homes and for cooking, radon, and tobacco smoke.
- Second hand smoke is another harmful indoor air pollutant that causes cancer.
Second hand smoke
- Secondhand smoke increases the risk of cancer development, along with the risk of developing other diseases such as stroke and lung disease.
- A lot of people all over the world get exposed to second hand smoke.
- A lot of deaths occur due to cancer because of second hand smoke exposure which is common every year, all over the globe.
- Radon is a natural radioactive gas, which is associated with increased risks of developing lung cancer.
- It is found at low levels outdoors. It may also build in high concentrations indoors.
- Although radon exposure does not pose a huge threat for cancer, a lot of radon-associated cancers develop due to exposure to radon, along with tobacco smoke.
- This is a flammable liquid having no color and with a sweet odor.
- It is closely associated with the development of leukemia and cancers affecting other cells of the body.
- Cigarette smoking and tobacco smoke are major cancer causing elements that are found in the air commonly. Both of these are quite harmful. It is recommended that you not only quit smoking, but also keep away from passive smoking.
In case you have a concern or query you can always consult an expert & get answers to your questions!