Breast Cancer screening does not necessarily have to be done only if there are noticeable symptoms. Women over 40 years of age must consult with their healthcare provider regarding the same.
Breast Cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. Increased awareness of the condition has helped reduce the number of deaths related to breast cancer. Nevertheless, it is important to keep spreading the word and ensuring easy access to early screening and treatment, in order to put an end to losing lives to Breast Cancer. When detected in its initial stages, Breast Cancer can be beaten. However, in its advanced stage treatment is less impactful and palliative care is all that can be offered. Hence it is absolutely necessary to educate women on the disease and how to proactively protect oneself.
WHO IS AT RISK OF GETTING BREAST CANCER?
There is no sure-fire formula that cancer follows. In many cases it’s unknown what triggered off the disease. However, years of research has led us to believe that there are some factors that put you at risk, more than others:
- Being a woman. Men get breast cancer too. However, it mainly affects women.
- The risk of Breast Cancer increases with age. Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 and above.
- Women who got their first period before the age of 12
- Women who reached menopause after the age of 55
- Women who have never been pregnant or who had their first child after the age of 30
- Women who have taken certain hormonal pills during menopause.
- Women who have had radiation therapy to the chest or breast.
- Women with dense breasts.
- Women with a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. It could be their mother, sister or even a first degree male relative with breast cancer.
- Women who have inherited certain gene mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are at high risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
- Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Some of these risk factors cannot be changed, but some can be worked on by making a few life-style changes. And just because you can tick off some of these factors, it does not mean you will get Breast Cancer. However, it’s best to inform your doctor and do an early cancer screening test, just to be on the safe side.
WHAT ARE THE EARLY SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER?
When certain cells in the breast grow out of control, it causes Breast Cancer. As the cancer progresses, this can spread to other parts of the body, complicating treatment options in the case of any type of cancer, diagnosing the disease at its initial stages, gives treatment a better chance at being successful. However, most often symptoms of Breast Cancer go unnoticed, which is why doctors recommend regular self-examination of the breast which will help understand what changes are normal, and what need to be checked out. Some of the symptoms to watch out for:
- A lump in the breast or underarm is usually the first noticeable symptom.
- A swelling in the armpit or near the collarbone is indicative of the cancer having spread to the lymph nodes in that area.
- A sudden inverted nipple
- Flattening or dimpling on the surface of the breast
- Breast changes in terms of size, shape, contour or texture
- Itching and skin flaking of the nipple
- Discolouration of the pigmented skin in the nipple area or any other part of the breast
- Pain and tenderness in any part of the breast
- Discharge from the nipple
The shape, size and texture of the breast vary from woman to woman. And even this changes at different stages of their life. Hence in order to identify an actual symptom of cancer or any infection, it is essential that each woman knows the way her breast looks and feels. This will help the doctor assess the problem effectively. And having any of these symptoms doesn’t confirm having the disease. It calls for Breast Cancer Screening.
BREAST CANCER SCREENING
Breast Cancer screening does not necessarily have to be done only if there are noticeable symptoms. In fact, it is recommended for women over 40 years of age to consult with their healthcare provider regarding Cancer Screening options and when to do the same. Early cancer screening can help find lumps two years before they can be felt, this boosts their survival odds.
- Breast Exam: Here a doctor will check for lumps in both breasts and the lymph nodes of the armpit.
- Mammogram: This is a breast x-ray done to find any abnormalities in the breasts. It can detect tumors in the very early stages of cancer, making it possible for more effective treatment.
- Breast MRI: This screening method is used along with a mammogram, mainly only for women who are in the high-risk category.
- Breast Ultrasound: This is used to check if a new breast lump is a solid mass or fluid filled cyst.
- Biopsy: While the above methods are used to detect lumps or abnormalities, a biopsy comes into play once a mass is actually detected. Few cells from the tumor are extracted and sent to the lab for experts to test for cancerous cells. Hence a biopsy is the definitive way to test for breast cancer.
TYPES OF BREAST CANCER
Breast cancer is classified based on which part of the breast has the cancerous tissue. A breast is made up of:
- * Lobules – the glands that produce milk.
- * Ducts – the tubes that carry milk to the nipple.
- * Connective tissue – fibrous and fatty tissue that holds everything together.
Most often Breast Cancer begins in the lobules. The cancer does not necessarily stay contained within the breasts. It can spread to other parts of the body through the blood vessels and lymph vessels. The cancer is said to have metastasized when this happens.
The most common kinds of breast cancer are—-
- Invasive ductal carcinoma: Here cancer cells grow outside the ducts and spread into other parts of the breast tissue. If left undetected and treated it can metastasize. Invasive ductal carcinoma makes up about 70-80% of all breast cancers.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma: As the name suggests in this case, cancer cells spread from the lobules to the breast tissues. If left undetected and treated it can metastasize.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): This is a non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer that has started in a milk duct and not grown into the rest of the breast tissue.
- Triple-negative breast cancer: This is an aggressive type of breast cancer where the cancer cells don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors and also don’t make too much of the protein called HER2. The cancer grows and spreads faster, and treatment options are limited.
- Inflammatory breast cancer: This is a rare form of Breast Cancer with symptoms of inflammation like swelling and redness, caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin causing the breast to look “inflamed.”
- Paget Disease of the breast: This is another rare type of Breast Cancer. It starts in the breast ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple and the pigmented region around it.
- Angiosarcoma: It starts in cells that line blood vessels or lymph vessels, and can involve the breast tissue or skin. Prior radiation therapy in the breast or chest can lead to Angiosarcoma.
- Phyllodes Tumors: This is a rare kind of breast cancer, where the tumors start in the connective tissue of the breast and tend to grow fast. However, in most cases the tumors are benign
TREATMENT FOR BREAST CANCER
Depending on the stage in which the cancer is detected, the doctor will decide upon the treatment. Some of the available options are:
- Surgery: When the cancerous cells are restricted to the breast region, and have to metastasize, they can be surgically removed. However, surgery might involve removing only the tumor or in some cases the entire breast(mastectomy). If they are in the high risk category the doctor may suggest removal of both breasts even if only one has cancerous cells. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the doctor can surgically remove the infected ones.
- Radiation therapy: It uses high-powered beams of energy to target and kill cancer cells. External Beam Radiation is done using a large machine that aims the energy beams at your body. Brachytherapy is done by placing radioactive material inside your body. Depending on the location of the cancer and the extent to which it has spread, the doctor will choose the type of radiation therapy.
- Chemotherapy: This method of treatment uses drugs to destroy fast-growing cancer cells. In women who have a large tumor in the breast, chemotherapy is used to first shrink the tumor before it is surgically removed.
- Hormone therapy: If the breast cancer is sensitive to estrogen or progesterone, the treatment suggested is Hormone Therapy that blocks the specific hormone. These cancers are referred to as estrogen receptor positive (ER positive) and progesterone receptor positive (PR positive) cancers.
- Targeted therapy: This is a type of meditation that attacks specific target on the cancer cell. For e.g. Trastuzumab is a drug that attacks HER-2 a target that is present on some breast cancer cells.
Cancer can be cured completely if detected early. Ensure early detection by adhering to recommendations from health authorities and help us overcome cancer.