The words Breast Cancer are always a cause of worry to women. Why should it not, for breast cancer is the most invasive cancer in women. In simple terms, breast cancer is the uncontrollable cell growth in the breast tissues.
Symptoms of breast cancer are usually thickened tissue in the breast, a lump in either the breast or the armpit, redness of the skin of the breast. Even a rash around or on one of the nipples or a discharge from a nipple can be an indication of breast cancer. Although most lumps are not cancerous, it is advisable to get a health checkup from a professional.
The exact CAUSE of breast cancer is not officially known. Majorly, age and genetics (family history of breast cancer) are considered the risk factors. Additionally, estrogen exposure and breast feeding, alcohol consumption, hormone treatments, high body weight (overweight or obesity), radiation exposure and occupational hazards are also considered possible causes for breast cancer.
The treatment procedure depends on the cause, nature as well as the stage of the breast cancer and the age and preference of the patients. Some treatment options include the following:
- Surgery – the choice of going through surgery (if needed) will depend on the diagnosis and the individual. The kinds of surgery one can undergo are:
- Lumpectomy (removal of the tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue around it)
- Mastectomy (involves removal of the lobules, ducts, fatty tissue, nipple, areola, and some skin)
- Sentinel Node Biopsy is done to verify whether Breast Cancer has spread to the nodes in the armpit.
- AXILLARY DISSECTION is done to remove the nodes and stop further spread of Cancer.
- Reconstruction: Following breast surgery, a reconstruction to recreate the breast so that it looks similar to the other one can be performed. This can be done at the same time as performing a mastectomy, or at a later date.
- Radiation therapy – To destroy cancer cells, controlled doses of radiation are targeted at the tumor. The type of breast cancer will dictate what type of radiation therapy (if any) is the most suitable. Adverse effects include fatigue, lymphedema, darkening of the breast skin, and irritation of the breast skin.
- Chemotherapy – A doctor may prescribe adjuvant chemotherapy i.e. using cytotoxic drugs to kill cancer cells, if there is a high risk of recurrence or spread. However, if a tumor is large, the doctor may choose to administer chemotherapy before the surgery to shrink the tumor and make its removal easier (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy). Adverse effects of chemotherapy may include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, hair loss, a slightly higher susceptibility to infections and more. However, these side effects can be controlled using further medications.
- Hormone blocking therapy – Hormone blocking therapy is used by doctors to prevent recurrence in hormone-sensitive breast cancers. These are called estrogen receptive (ER)-positive and progesterone receptor (PR)-positive cancers. This therapy may be the only option for patients who cannot undergo surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy. However, the treatment will have no effect on cancers that are not sensitive to hormones.
Treatments for any cancer type can have severe adverse effects. Therefore, it is very important that the patient discusses the risks involved when deciding on a treatment and ways to minimize the negative effects.
If you are not diagnosed with breast cancer but are concerned about developing it, you can take some steps to help prevent breast cancer. Although some risk factors, such as family history, cannot be changed, there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower the risk.
- Limit alcohol and stop smoking.
- Being overweight or obese is considered a risk factor for breast cancer. So control your weight.
- Be physically active such as by exercising or any kind of aerobic activity.
- Breast-feeding might play a role in preventing breast cancer.
- Limiting the dose and duration of hormone therapy can be beneficial. The risk of breast cancer increases if combination hormone therapy lasts for more than three to five years.
- Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution.
- Avoid birth control pills, in particular if you are over the age of 35 years or if you smoke.