About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer begins in the tissues of the breast. Though it is the most common invasive cancer in women, breast cancer can also occur in men. It is essential to understand the anatomy of the breasts before learning about how to treat breast cancer. Breasts are organs (usually two in number) that sit on the upper part of the chest and comprise different types of tissues, including: Lobules (glands that secrete milk in women to enable breastfeeding) Ducts (small canals in the breast that carry milk from the lobules to the nipples) Nipples (the opening of the breast that allows the expulsion of milk) Blood and lymph vessels Fatty tissue The amount of fatty tissues in the breast determines its size. Depending upon where in the breast the cancerous growth starts, its nature and tendency to spread, breast cancer can be of the following types: Ductal carcinoma (invasive and in-situ) Lobular carcinoma (invasive and in-situ) Triple-negative breast cancer Inflammatory breast cancer Breast cancer life expectancy has significantly improved in the past few years. Many factors increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer, with increasing age being the most common. Breast cancer is more common in women over 55 years of age. Other risk factors include family history, breast density, unhealthy lifestyle, breast implants, and increased body weight.

Symptoms

Early detection and prompt treatment is the mantra for a better prognosis of any type of cancer, especially breast cancer. Some signs and symptoms to watch out for include:

 

  • A lump in the breast or near the armpit
  • Thickening of a part of the breast that feels different from the surrounding tissues
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Scaling, peeling or crusting of the darkened area around the nipple (called the areola)
  • Dimpling in the skin over the breast
  • An inverted nipple
  • Changed appearance of the breast
  • Redness and irritation on the skin of the breast
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both breasts

 

Since these symptoms may occur with other conditions, it is best to consult your doctor for a conclusive diagnosis.  Also, not all breast lumps are malignant, and most of them are usually benign and not life-threatening.

Diagnosis

Tests used in breast cancer diagnosis include:

 

  • Breast examination

After taking a thorough medical and familial history, your doctor will perform a physical breast examination to feel any lumps in the breast or around them.

 

  • Digital mammography

This is essentially an X-ray of the breast and is routinely used as a screening test. Any abnormality detected in a mammogram is followed up with further imaging tests or a biopsy.

 

  • Ultrasonography of the breast

An ultrasound is used to determine if the lump detected in the breast is solid (suggestive of a tumour) or fluid-filled (suggestive of a cyst).

 

  • Biopsy

A biopsy is a conclusive test for breast cancer diagnosis and involves the collection of breast tissue samples from the suspected region. This sample is then analysed in a laboratory to determine the type of cells and aggressiveness of cancer.

 

  • Breast MRI

A breast MRI is recommended only in women who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer or when the doctor wants to check for the size and extent of the tumour.

 

Treatment

Many advanced breast cancer treatment options are available today. Though we often think of ‘chemotherapy and breast cancer’, many other options are available for treating it.

 

Breast cancer treatments can be either local or systemic, depending upon the spread of cancer. Local treatments like surgery and radiation are preferred breast cancer treatment options when the tumour is localised (confined to its region of origin).

 

Drugs used in breast cancer treatment are considered systemic treatment options as they target cancer cells anywhere in the body. Systemic breast cancer treatment options include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy.

 

Breast cancer treatment depends on multiple factors, including– the patient’s age, overall health, type and stage of cancer.

 

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