Hearing the dreaded term cancer is enough to give us all a mental scare. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the USA. Breast cancer is the uncontrolled growth of breast cells which develops as tumors which can invade other tissues or metastasize (spread) to other body parts.
Women are more at risk of getting Breast cancer but men can have it too. Besides lung cancer, it is the leading cause of death by cancer in women.
With the growing awareness and widespread information available through media, researches and famous cases, there is a lot you can read about breast cancer. Early detection can bring about far better chance of recovery and open doors to more treatment options.
Signs and Symptoms to look out for:
There are, in many cases, no sign or symptom of breast cancer in the patient when they are diagnosed, especially in early stages. The lump can be too small to be physically felt and can be seen only on mammogram. Also, there are different types of breast cancer depending on the spread (invasive or non-invasive), locations such as nipple, milk ducts, lobules, etc. and other factors. The symptoms can vary depending on the type and stage.
Most commonly known symptoms one should keep in mind include:
• Lump – in the breast or armpit
• Pain in the breast or armpit, almost all the time (not varying with monthly cycle)
• Inverted or sunken nipple
• Swelling on the whole or part of breasts, armpit or collarbone
• Redness and rashes around the nipple
• Changes in the texture of the skin over breast like redness, pitting (marked like fruit skin), puckering, scaling or peeling
• Fluid discharge from the nipple, possibly blood
• Size or shape change in the breast
The symptoms can be because of some other issue, like cyst or infection, and may not be arising because of tumour. But a regular self-exam can be done to keep a check on your health status and any changes can be taken up to the doctor for review. If the need arises, the doctor will conduct a screening test to diagnose the condition. There are a number of diagnostic tests and it usually takes a while to conduct and analyse, but if you are at risk or above 40 and experiencing related issues you should schedule an annual mammogram with the physician. Early detection can be a life-saving difference, so don’t ignore and be aware of your health status.
Treatment options for Breast cancer
A lot of research and studies have been done and are still going on to bring for the advancement of screening and treatment of cancer. A multidisciplinary team of doctors including medical oncologists, radiologists, breast surgeons, specialists along with support nurses and counsellors are involved in formulating a treatment plan best suited to the patient’s condition. The patient is advised with the best possible option for breast cancer treatment based on the type and stage of the cancer.
Some of the treatments are as follows:
Surgery: It involves an operation to remove the tumor and some healthy tissues surrounding it. The surgery is performed by a surgical oncologist and there are majorly two types of surgeries:
Lumpectomy – A likely option if the tumor is small. In this tumor and some of the surrounding healthy tissues are removed depending on the size and location of the tumour.
Mastectomy – In this surgery, the whole breast with ducts, nipple, areola, fatty tissue and some skin tissues are removed. The Radical mastectomy also includes removal of chest wall muscles along with the above mentioned parts.
Radiation Therapy: It is done to kill the cancerous cells with small doses of targeted radiation. This can be opted after surgery to remove any remaining tumor cells and can be paired with chemotherapy. Two types of radiation therapy are available: External beam radiation and internal radiation (Brachytherapy).
Chemotherapy: This involves using chemical drugs given intravenously or orally to kill the cancerous cells (adjuvant) or to shrink the tumor before surgery (neo-adjuvant).
Hormone Therapy: Usually recommended to women who have hormone receptor-positive, i.e. ER-positive and/or PR-positive breast cancer, but not so much for those who are hormone receptor-negative. Estrogen plays an important role in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells as it gets attached to receptors and helps in cancer growth. Different kinds of drugs can be used to prevent estrogen from attaching to these receptors.
Immunotherapy: In this certain medicines are used to stimulate the patient’s own immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.
Targeted Therapy: This is an advanced treatment for breast cancer in which target drugs stop cancer from growing and spreading. It is expensive but result-oriented. It is different from chemotherapy as it targets certain characteristics of the cancer cells and is less harmful to the healthy cells of the body.