What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer, itself refers to an abnormal growth of cells which may be in the form of a painless tumour or a Lump [Mass of Tissues]. There are nearly 100 types of Cancer and its classification depends upon the location and the organ which is affected by cancerous cells. The disease of Cancer can affect anyone, at any age, irrespective of their sex. Breast Cancer can affect only women is a popular belief but in rare cases it can occur in men also. Breast Cancer is characterized by a Painless lump or tumour near the breast under the arm.

What happens in Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer is a cancerous or unlimited growth of breast cells. It affects the inner lining of the milk duct or the lobules which supply milk to the ducts. The breast of a human female contains many tissues, several glands or tubes [lobules], and thousands of cells. The ducts or glands supply milk which is delivered by the nipple in a breast feeding mother. Normally like any other cells, the breast cells also reproduce new cells and replace the dead cells; but in Cancer the cells multiply uncontrollably leading to formation of a tumour or a lump. It can occur either in the lobules or in the lining of the milk ducts.

Cancer of the lobules is called Lobular Carcinoma and is less common than the Cancer of Milk ducts which is called Ductal Carcinoma, and is very common.

What are the types of Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer is primarily of 2 types: Invasive and Non Invasive. 

Invasive: When the cancerous cells break out from the lobules or ducts and invade into the tissues nearby and affect the lymph nodes, subsequently making their way to the vital organs of the body like liver and lungs, it is known as Invasive Cancer. This journey of damaged or cancerous cells can begin early or later.

Non-invasive: When the cancerous growth is still inside the lobules in case Lobular Carcinoma and when it is still inside the ducts in Ductal Carcinoma, then it is called non invasive but it can any time become invasive later on.

What are the visible signs and symptoms of Breast Cancer?

One of the symptoms is pain which can be felt by the patient whereas some signs are externally visible. The major signs and symptoms of Breast Cancer are:

1. The formation of a lump or thickening of tissue in the breast. The lump may be painless.
2. A constant pain in the armpits or breast which is not related to any other cause.
3. Pitting, redness, tenderness of breast skin around the nipples.
4. A swelling in one of the armpits or a rash on one of the nipples.
5. Discharge from the nipple which may be bloody or clear.
6. Change in appearance of the nipple viz. inverted or sunken.
7. Change in shape and size of the breast.
8. Flaking, peeling or scaling of skin near the breast.

What are the causes of Breast Cancer and the associated risk factors?

The happening of Breast Cancer can be due to the following factors:

Old Age: After menopause and over the age of 50 in women.

Genetics: Most of the breast cancers are not hereditary. Breast Cancer is a very common form of cancer. Women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are in the high risk group and these genes are inherited.

History/Relapse: When a woman has had Cancer of the non invasive type, the risks of the cancer recurring are higher as compared to women who have no history of the disease.

Having certain lumps: If women have had a certain lump like formation [non cancerous] in the breast the chances of cancer rises.

Dense breast tissue/Heavy breast: Chances of developing Breast Cancer rises.

Estrogen Levels: Estrogen is a hormone which increases at puberty and decreases at menopause. Early puberty and late menopause in women puts them at risk.

Height & Obesity: Taller than normal and fatter than normal puts you at risk.

Radiation exposure: Constant exposure to X-Rays and Scans increase the risk of Breast Cancer, especially if one has been subjected to radiation therapy for some chest condition in childhood.

Hormone Replacement Therapy [HRT]: Estrogen [combined] therapy increases the risk of Breast Cancer.

Certain environment factors and sedentary lifestyle: Like being exposed for a long period to plastic components and lack of exercises increases the chances of Cancer.

Certain cosmetic implants restrict the rate of survival.

How is Breast Cancer diagnosed?

A visit to the Doctor is imminent if you detect any abnormalities. The following tests and techniques are used to detect cancer in the breast:

Physical examination of the breast, to check out for lumps, and any changes in the nipples and skin texture.

Mammogram/X-Ray: Women should go in for mammogram to detect any abnormalities at any time after the age of 30. Advanced Mammogram include 2D and 3D imaging which is very helpful.

Breast Ultrasound. Breast MRI and Biopsy: For accurate detection.

What is the line of treatment for Breast Cancer?

The ‘staging’ of Cancer is very important to determine the course of treatment. The chances of survival increase with early detection when it is in the initial stage. To determine the Stage, various tests like blood tests, CT scans, Mammogram are taken and once the stage is determined, the course of treatment is also decided.

Treatment may include but not be limited to:  

Treatment options like Radiation therapy, surgery, biological or targeted drug therapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.

Surgery may include Lumpectomy [removal of lump], Mastectomy [removal of breast]. 

What are the preventive steps for Breast Cancers?

Most of the Cancers are lifestyle diseases and the incidence of Cancer in higher in the urban areas compared to the rural setup. Exposure to pollution and adverse environmental factors plus a sedentary lifestyle increase the chances of Cancer. Try the following:

  • Say no to Alcohol.
  • Proper diet regimen.
  • Plenty of exercises.
  • Limiting hormonal therapies after menopause.
  • Maintaining of a healthy body weight.
  • Certain medications.

Breast screening to start early when at risk, and most important of all ‘Breast feeding’ which reduces the risk of Cancer considerably!

How does one cope with Cancer?

It is indeed difficult to deal practically and emotionally once you have been diagnosed. You may feel upset and out of control but once this initial feeling has subsided, lift yourself from the trauma and seek medical advice and find out information which can help you. Talk to people or read about people who have combated the condition and managed a good and healthy life. Most of the Cancers can be treated if detected early.

Avoid the risk factors and do not let yourself be run down; on the other hand cultivate a positive approach and scare the Cancer away. For Example the recent case of Actress Angelina Jolie who was carrying the gene of BRCA 1 inherited from her mother who had Breast Cancer. Angelina went in for Mastectomy [removal of breast] as she had a high risk of 87%! She being an actress who is always in the public eye did a heroic act and did not worry about her appearance.

Health is more important. Be positive and embrace Good Health. 

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