All You Wanted to Know About Breast Cancer
The body is made up of cells that grow and die in a controlled way. Sometimes, cells keep dividing and growing without normal controls, causing an abnormal growth called a tumour. A tumour can be benign (harmless), premalignant (if left untreated, may lead to cancer) or malignant (progressively worsens and can result in death). Cancer is a malignant tumour.
Breast cancer is a malignant tumour that begins in the cells of the breast. The disease occurs mainly in women, but men can get it too. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide.
The exact cause of breast cancer remains unknown, yet certain factors are linked to the chance of getting the disease. They are as below:
Being a woman is the main risk for breast cancer, although 1% of men can also get the disease.
The risk of getting breast cancer is more as a woman gets older.
Genetic Risk Factors
Damage to certain genes (due to inherited or environmental changes) increases the risk of breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives (either from mother's or father's side) of the family have this disease. If one's mother or sister has breast cancer, it doubles the risk of getting the disease.
A woman with cancer in one breast has a greater chance of getting a new cancer in the other or same breast.
Women with denser breast tissue; or certain not-cancerous changes in the breast; or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) have a higher risk of breast cancer. Dense breast tissue can also make it harder for doctors to spot cancer on mammograms.
Women who began having periods early (before age 12) or who went through menopause after the age of 55 years have increased risk of breast cancer.
Breast Radiation Early in Life
Those who have had radiation treatment to the chest area (as treatment for another cancer) earlier in life have a greatly increased risk of breast cancer. The risk is higher if the radiation was given during the teens, when the breasts were still developing as compared to after 40 years of age.
Early cancer of the breast usually has no symptoms. Later, as the cancer grows, it may cause a lump or mass that can be felt in the breast. A lump can be painless and hard, or painful and soft. Sometimes, skin over the tumour may become coarse and wrinkled. Other signs of breast cancer include the following:
- Change in the size/shape/feel of breast or nipple
- Swelling of all or part of the breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast pain
- Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
- Redness, scaling or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Abnormal nipple discharge
In Case of Any Unusual Symptoms, It's Extremely Important to See Your Doctor Right Away
Helping diagnose cancer at an early stage involves screening - that is, looking for the cancer before a person has any symptoms.
Checking one's own breasts for lumps, changes in the size or shape of the breast, or any other changes in the breasts or underarm (armpit).
- While sitting or standing, raise each arm and examine the armpit for any lumps, because breast tissue extends to that area.
- Lie down on the back and place the left hand behind the head. With the middle fingers of the right hand, gently yet firmly press down on the breast area, using small motions (pattern shown in the diagram) to examine the entire left breast.
- Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for any discharge. Repeat the process on the right breast.
Clinical Breast Examination
The breasts are examined by a doctor. It should be done regularly after 30 years of age.
Mammography (X-Ray of the Breast)
- After 40 years of age, once every one to two years.
- After 50 years of age, every year.
- If there is a history of breast cancer in the family, it can be done before one completes 40 years of age.
Various therapies are used for the treatment of breast cancer, e.g. removal of the tumour (surgery), killing cancer cells with drugs (chemotherapy) or radiation (radiotherapy). Depending on the size and spread of the cancer, treatment can include any of these therapies or a combination.
A healthy diet with a variety of foods that include lots of fruits and vegetables; choosing whole grain foods; limiting alcohol consumption and meats that are high in fat; avoiding smoking.
Achieving or maintaining a desirable weight.
Can improve physical and emotional health and play a role in preventing cancer.
Getting the necessary exams and check-ups done regularly, especially in those who have a family history or relatives with breast cancer.
HRT and Hormonal Contraceptives
Consult the doctor about the risks and benefits before taking HRT or hormonal contraceptives. If one is on HRT, a regular check-up is necessary.