Breasts define a woman; it is the primitive anatomical feature. But breast cancer is also the most common cancer that afflicts women, and can also affect men. When uncontrolled cell growth occurs, it often destroys the healthy cells and the lymph nodes become the primary pathway for the cancer cells to travel to other parts of the body.
The worst part of any cancer that it can lie undetected until it becomes too late. So here are some of the common symptoms to watch out for:
· A breast lump
· Breast pain
· Red pitted skin on the breast
· Swelling in and around the breast
· Bloody discharge from the nipple
· Inverted nipple
· Change in the shape of the breast
· Flaking, peeling, scaling on the nipple
· Swelling in the underarm
The Low-down On Breast Cancer
Cancer can strike any individual but there are certain risk factors that can increase a woman’s chance of having breast cancer:
· Age– breast cancer is more likely to strike to older women, above 50 years, than a girl of 20.
· Alcohol– if you are a heavy drinker your risk of breast cancer increases manifold than women who are a teetotaller.
· Early menarche– girls who attain puberty before 12 years are at a higher risk.
· Delayed menopause-if menopause doesn’t start till 55 years, the higher amount of estrogen makes you susceptible.
· No pregnancy– those who have never conceived are more likely to have breast cancer.
· Delayed pregnancy-if you had a child above 35 years, or never breastfed then you are in the high risk category.
· Hormone therapy– those women who took hormonal therapy to negate the symptoms of menopause are at higher risk.
· Previous cancer scare– if you had radiation therapy for different cancer then you are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
· Genetics– those women who have a family history of breast cancer or ovarian, fallopian or cervical cancer or women who carry certain gene mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 have a higher risk of breast cancer.
· Obesity– women with higher BMI have a greater chance of developing cancer.
The different kinds of breast cancer
· Ductal carcinoma in situ
· Lobular carcinoma in situ
· Invasive ductal carcinoma
· Invasive lobular carcinoma
· Paget disease of the nipple
· Phyllodes tumor
· Inflammatory breast cancer
· Triple-negative cancer
Breast cancer can be divided into different stages-0 to 4, and the stages are based on the size of the tumors and how much it has spread. The oncologist and tests can determine the exact stage and the treatment plan.
Breast cancer can be diagnosed by several manners:
· Self-exam– you can spend some time examining your breast if there are any abnormalities, consult a doctor ASAP! Breast awareness is a good form of self-preservation.
· Mammogram-it is an imaging test that can be prescribed by doctors to women above 40.
· Ultrasound-it helps your oncologist to distinguish between a tumor and a cyst.
· MRI-it is done as a follow-up to mammogram and ultrasound, to allow doctors a better understanding of the abnormalities.
· Biopsy– it is a test to determine whether the tumor is benign or malignant.
With the advancement in technology and increased awareness leads to early detection of breast cancer among women and hence it is much easily curable. Some of the treatment methods for breast cancer are:
· Surgery: various surgical options can be referred by a doctor, according to the diagnosis. Surgical options include lumpectomy, mastectomy, sentinel node therapy, auxiliary lymph node dissection, and reconstruction.
· Radiation therapy: radiation beams are targeted to kill cancerous cells. It is usually used post-operation.
· Chemotherapy: a drug treatment that is used prior to surgery to shrink the size of tumors but it has some adverse side effects too.
· Hormone therapy: it blocks the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which assist in the growth of the tumor or can block the hormone receptors on the tumor.
· Medication: nowadays there are certain medicines that can stop the progress of the tumor.
Mastectomy is a preventive method, in which a surgeon removes breast tissues from one or both breasts. There are several types of mastectomy that can be performed on women
· Total mastectomy-the entire breast is removed while the muscles under the breast and lymph nodes are left.
· Double mastectomy-both breasts are removed and are used as a preventive measure.
· Radical mastectomy-the entire breast, underarm lymph nodes, and the chest wall are removed.
· Skin-sparing mastectomy-breast tissue and nipple are removed.
· Nipple– sparing mastectomy-the skin, nipple, and peripheral breast tissue is left intact.
Many breast-conserving surgeries are also done, which are less invasive and is opted by many women. Reconstruction surgery can be done by plastic surgeons post-mastectomy. It can either be done during the first surgery or after 6-12 months. Many women nowadays even choose not to have surgery.
Angelina Jolie is a crusader for breast cancer, she had opted for a preventive double mastectomy and removal of her fallopian tubes and ovaries in 2013. The mother of six lost her grandmother, mother, and aunt to breast cancer. Her move had shocked the world but inspired many a young women to embrace this step.
Life after breast cancer can be extremely delicate, and it doesn’t stop with the end of the treatment. Women not only undergo a physical trauma but also an emotional and psychological trauma. Relationships undergo massive changes and a supportive family and friends are extremely important during this time.