Breast cancer may be caused due to the presence of one or more lumps in the breasts. These lumps are basically tissue masses that may or may not be malignant. Its stages go from an early and curable phase, to metastatic stage where myriad treatment options may have to be used. Lumps, tenderness and pain, as well as visible swelling in the armpits may point to the presence of breast cancer.
HOW IS BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSED?
Diagnosis includes a physical exam, self-examination of the breasts, mammography, ultrasound testing, and biopsy.
HOW IS BREAST CANCER TREATED?
Breast cancer is usually treated with surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Hormone receptor positive cancers are ofen treated with hormone blocking therapy over courses of several years.
DID YOU KNOW?
Younger women who smoke have a higher risk of breast cancer than their non-smoking peers.
Breast cancer develops due to the growth of malignant cells in the breast tissue, owing to factors such as heredity, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, exposure to ionizing radiation, hormone replacement therapy, lack of breastfeeding or having children at a later age. This form of cancer generally develops along the lining of the cells that lines the lactiferous ducts and lobules. Globally, breast cancer is the commonest type of cancer which afflict women, occurring more in developed countries than developing ones. However, 80-90% breast cancer patients in developed countries survive breast cancer for 5 years or more unlike their counterparts in developing countries.
The symptoms of breast cancer are as follows:
• A lump on the breast with a texture differing from a regular breast tissue. The lump may also be formed in the lymph nodes or in the armpit.
• Change in the shape or size of one breast.
• A change in the shape or position of a nipple or its inversion.
• Dimpling of the skin
• Discharge from the nipples
• Formation of a rash on or around the nipple
• Swelling beneath the armpit or around the collarbone
• In some cases, Paget’s disease of the breast is also a symptom of breast cancer
• Sudden and unexplained weight loss
• Fever, chills
In case of inflammatory breast cancer however, the symptoms of breast cancer often resemble inflammation of the breast accompanied by itching, pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast. It also includes a change of texture to resemble an orange peel.
Diagnosis of breast cancer in the early stages mostly follows screening methods like physical examination by trained medical staff, FNAC and mammography. Mammogram is usually consulted when the usual symptoms of breast cancer are absent. Oncologists advise biopsy of the affected part of the breast for conclusive diagnosis of breast cancer.
Breast cancer undergoes the following stages:
• Stage 0: Pre-cancer stage when the carcinoma just begins to affect the ducts or lobules.
• Stage 1-3: The cancer is contained within the breast or localized in the regional lymph nodes.
• Stage 4: Advanced stage when the breast cancer metastasizes onto other parts of the body.
Several types of treatments are available for breast cancer. Some of them include:
• Surgery – Usually employed for localized breast cancer, surgery includes breast conserving surgeries which removes the cancerous tissue along with the surrounding normal tissue depending upon the size and location of the cancer or mastectomy in which the entire breast is removed. Apart from breast reconstruction surgeries, surgery is also undertaken to detect and remove metastases or to alleviate pain.
• Radiation Therapy – This involves treatment with high energy rays that kills the cancer cells. It includes External (beam) Radiation and Internal Radiation.
• Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy are drugs which are used to kill the fast growing cells all over the patient’s body including the breast. It may be administered before the surgery to shrink the size of the tumour or after the surgery to prevent a chance of the cancer’s return or to eliminate the cancer cells which survive the surgery. In case of advanced breast cancer, chemotherapy is the main treatment advised by oncologists, administered as an i.v. drip, injection or infusion.
• Hormone Therapy- It is mostly used after surgery. A recent form of treatment, it is mostly used to treat recurrent cancer.
• Targeted Therapy - Targeted drugs have been developed to target and kill cancer cells throughout the body.
Breast cancer treatment is an expensive and lengthy procedure. The patient requires optimal care with adequate medical and psychological support.
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