What is breast cancer?
Abnormal growth of cells in the body with potential to penetrate or spread to other parts of the body leads to a variety of diseases, called cancer. The abnormal growth of such cells leads to formation of tumors. Many of the tumors are only benign which do not cause serious harm. But when the tumors become malignant, they are called cancer diseases leading to serious consequences, if not detected in time by appropriate laboratory tests and properly treated.
Cancer that most commonly affects humans are, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, colon cancer, lung cancer. Lymphoma (cancer in the lymphatic system), leukemia, ovarian cancer, skin cancer, blood cancer, thyroid cancer, pancreatic cancer etc.
There are more than a hundred types of cancers that are identified to affect a human body.
This article is devoted to BREAST CANCER, its causes, symptoms and treatment.
There is a general misunderstanding that only women are affected by breast cancer. But it is not so. While men also may be affected by it, majority of people affected are women because of the distinctly different functions.
The focus in this post is on female breast cancer only since world over this is the most invasive cancer in women. It is reported that about 18 percent of deaths in women due to cancer is because of breast cancer alone.
How does the cancer develop?
Breast cancer normally develops in the lining of the milk ducts or in the lobules which sends the milk to the ducts. Based on the spot from where the cancer develops, it is called as ductal carcinoma or lobular carcinoma. These two types of breast cancer are more prevalent but there are more than a dozen types of other breast cancer too.
When the cancer cells form initially in the milk duct or lobule and remain there, it is non-invasive but when it spreads to other parts of the body it becomes invasive. Generally, it is a matter of time that a non-invasive cancer become invasive. These are merely the stages of cancer and not types.
Breast of a grown female comprises of billions of microscopic cells as any other part of the body. The cells keep on replacing themselves in a regular fashion in order to remove the dead cells. But if such growth of fresh cells becomes progressively more in comparison with the dead cells and are uncontrollable, it leads to development of cancer cells.
Breast of a matured woman has fat, lobules, tissues and milk producing glands. The breast anatomy speaks of many other components with different functions. Most cases of cancer develops in the milk duct and are called ductal carcinoma.
Causes of breast cancer
There is no particular cause for development of breast cancer in a person. Causes of breast cancer varies from being a female, obesity, alcohol consumption, advanced age, certain occupational hazards and genetic.
Breast cancer is identified through a number of symptoms like:
- Redness of the breast skin
- Formation of lump in and or around the breast
- Lump or swelling in one of the arm pits which has no relation to the menstrual period
- Rashes on and or around the nipple
- Change in the shape of the nipple
- Any liquid discharge in one of the nipples, sometimes with blood
- Formation of thick tissues in the breast
- Flake or scale formation or peeling of the skin of the nipple or breast
- Significant change in the shape or size of the breast
Appearance of lump alone do not point to presence of breast cancer as most of the lumps or tumors are only benign and do not develop into cancer.
Breast cancer is diagnosed initially by a physical examination of the breast by a doctor to observe abnormalities, if any. On suspicion of breast cancer further laboratory tests like mammogram (both two dimensional and three dimensional), ultrasound, biopsy and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan. While many of the test are advised for all suspected cases, mammography is advised only after a certain age (generally above forty years of age) in view of certain false indications which may lead to unnecessary surgical procedures.
Treatment for breast cancer
Once diagnosed, treatment of the same can be by, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological therapy and surgery but not in the same order. The treatment is based on the type and stage of breast cancer.
Bone directed therapy is also undertaken where the cancer has spread to the bones. Pain or weakness in the bones or fractures may indicate that the cancer has spread to the bone.
Before clinical diagnosis previous history of breast cancer in the person or in close family circle need to be ascertained to find out whether the cancer is genetic.
Prevention of breast cancer
Breast feeding, avoiding obesity, avoiding habitual alcohol consumption, ensuring appropriate body weight, having regular exercises, well balanced diet and limiting the use of post-menopausal hormone therapy ( also known as hormone replacement therapy) are some of the preventive measures which can be adopted.
Side effects of treatment
Post treatment side effects are both emotional and physical. Emotional side effect such as anxiety may be overcome by proper counselling. Physical side effects vary based on the type of cancer and the relevant treatment given. Such physical side effects have to be discussed with a doctor for possible remedy. Due to severity of post treatment psychological side effect in the case of breast cancer appropriate counselling is a must.