Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, what better time to talk about breast cancer, and why it’s so important to get annual screenings. No one is ever ready to receive the news of breast cancer. Breast cancer is a common type of cancer that affects about 2.1 million people every year. According to the World Health Organization, it causes approx. 15% of all cancer-related deaths in women.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that develops from the uncontrolled growth of abnormal breast cells. The rapidly dividing and irregular cells accumulate over time forming a mass or lump. Malignant tumors can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. Most of the breast is comprised of fatty tissue, and within that are ligaments, connective tissue, lymph vessels and nodes, and blood vessels. In a woman’s breast, there are 12-20 sections within it called lobes, each made up of smaller lobules that produce milk.
Causes of Breast Cancer
There are many factors that increase the chances of developing breast cancer. While we know some of these risk factors, we don't know the cause of breast cancer. In many cases of breast cancer, early diagnosis is the key to survival.
Risk Factors of Breast Cancer
Age: The chances of breast cancer increase as one gets older.
Family history: Having a close relative who has had the disease (sister, mother, daughter) doubles the risk of breast cancer.
Personal history: Having a breast cancer diagnosis in one breast increases the risk of cancer in the other breast or the chance of additional cancer in the same one.
Women diagnosed with certain benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions have an increased risk of breast cancer. These include atypical hyperplasia, a condition in which there is an abnormal proliferation of breast cells but no cancer has developed.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer, and proportional to the amount of alcohol used.
Genetic factors: Women who have certain inherited gene mutations (including BRCA1 and BRCA2) have a significantly increased risk of breast cancer.
Other risk factors include early onset of menstrual periods (before age 12), first full-term pregnancy when you are over 30 years, dense breasts, smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet.
Signs & Symptoms of Breast Cancer
The most common breast cancer symptom to watch out for is a lump in or a change in the mass of the breasts. The following are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
- A lump in the breast/underarm
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation of breast skin
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area of the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple
- Pain in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
- Any change in the size/ shape of the breast
- Pain in the breast
These changes may not necessarily indicate that you have breast cancer, but they should be evaluated. Every individual’s risk for breast cancer can change over time, depending on a number of factors. If you have any of these symptoms, it is best to visit the doctor. Though breast cancer is most common in women, men can develop it as well.
Prevention of Breast Cancer
While there are some risk factors you cannot control, you can take certain preventive measures against breast cancer.
- Get regular screenings
- Follow a healthy lifestyle
- Stay active
- Keep your weight in check
- Quit smoking and drinking
- Know your breasts
It is important to know your breasts. Know how they feel, and ask your doctor how to do a proper breast self-exam. Your best defense in the fight against breast cancer is living a healthy lifestyle and following early detection screening guidelines recommendation. Some women, because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or other factors, may need to have an MRI in addition to a mammogram. Talk to the doctor about your history and whether you should have an MRI at an earlier age.
Mammograms are the best test available to find breast cancer early, sometimes years before a breast cancer lump can be felt. It is an X-ray picture of the breast. The digital mammogram provides a 3D image of your breast to show any masses or abnormalities such as calcifications. Early detection of breast cancer means that treatment can begin earlier, much before the disease has spread.
Treatment for Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biologic therapy, and radiation. Patients with breast cancer often receive more than one type of treatment. It is essential for every woman to know the warning signs of breast cancer, become familiar with her body, and discuss any unusual changes with a doctor. If you would like to discuss your symptoms with the breast cancer specialist in Chennai, reach out to make an appointment.