Breast cancer is a serious health condition that occurs due to development of abnormal cells and tissues in breasts and surrounding regions. This cancer is not restricted to women, it can affect men as well. Just like other types of cancers, it is also a life-threatening disease and requires early treatment for complete relief. Chances of successful outcomes are higher if it is detected and treated in initial stages. Therefore, patients must stay aware and visit well-qualified surgeons on observing any abnormality in their breasts.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
It is quite a tough task to detect breast cancer in its developmental stages as it does not show any prominent warning signs during early stages. However, patients experiencing any of the following symptoms should consult a doctor at the earliest for precise diagnosis.
- Lump in Breast – Patients with an underlying breast cancer condition are likely to have a noticeable lump around their breast area which may be painful in nature.
- Changes in Breast Profile – Patients may experience several changes in their affected breast including changes in shape, size and its overall appearance.
- Dimpling of Skin – Dimpling of skin around breasts is one of the common symptoms of breast cancer.
- Abnormal Nipple Condition – Patients suffering from breast cancer may observe inverted nipple condition, redness and peeling of breast skin around their nipples.
Causes and Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Root cause of breast cancer is still not known. However, medical professionals state that abnormal genes, hormonal imbalances and a sedentary lifestyle are mainly responsible for the growth of abnormal and cancerous cells in breasts. Apart from this, the following risk factors may also raise the chances of getting breast cancer.
- Gender and Age – It has been observed that women are more prone to developing breast cancer than men. Also, possibility of breast cancer increases as one age.
- Family History – Probability of breast cancer is more in people who have had a family history of such disease.
- Being Alcoholic and Obese – Heavy drinking and obesity doubles up the possibility of getting breast cancer.
- Overexposure to Radiations – People who have undergone several radiation treatments at an early age have a greater likelihood of getting this life-threatening disease.
- Early Menstrual Cycle – Women who get their periods before they reach 12 years of age have a relatively greater risk of developing this disease as compared to others.
- Not Being Pregnant – Women who have not conceived a baby in their entire phase prior to menopause may get breast cancer in future.
- Hormone Therapy – Women who consume hormone controlling medications after menopause is at a higher risk of developing cancer of breast.
Such women must indulge in regular health checkups in order to avoid complications and reduce the risks of breast cancer.
Major Types of Breast Cancer
The following points elaborate major types of breast cancer.
- Non-Invasive Breast Cancer (Ductal Carcinoma) – Such type of breast cancer occurs in ducts of patient’s breast. They are non-invasive in nature which implies that they do not spread beyond patient’s breasts.
- Invasive Breast Cancer (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma) – Such type of breast cancer occurs in the cells that cover breasts ducts. They have a tendency to spread beyond breasts.
- Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer – This type of cancer of breast is highly invasive in nature and it generally occurs in milk-producing glands or ducts of patients.
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer – This breast cancer is extremely aggressive in nature as compared to others. It is termed as inflammatory because it produces signs of severe inflammation around affected breast area.
- Paget’s Disease of Nipples – It is a very rarely occurring type of breast cancer that emerges when cancerous cells begin to accumulate around patient’s nipples.
Diagnosing Breast Cancer
Patients experiencing abnormal symptoms must take an appointment with cancer specialists or well-experienced oncologists in order to understand their current health status. Respective oncologists may begin inspection by asking a few basic yet important questions to them. For example, oncologists may ask them regarding the severity of symptoms and the time since they began bothering them. They may advise them to take part in the given breast evaluation tests if they suspect something serious.
- Breast Examination – Doctors may examine the breasts thoroughly for checking symptoms of breast cancer such as lump, redness or swelling around them.
- Mammogram – Mammogram involves taking x-rays of affected breast and surrounding areas. It can significantly help in detecting irregularities in breast.
- Breast Ultrasound Test – This test creates detailed and fine images of patient’s breasts and nearby tissues with the help of powerful sound waves. Doctors can easily figure out abnormalities by inspecting the pictures.
- Biopsy of Breasts – It is a simple procedure that includes removing a sample of tissues and cells from patient’s breasts. This sample is examined in laboratory for identifying presence of cancerous cells.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging Test (MRI) – Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI is a painless technique that generates three-dimensional pictures of patient’s breasts for helping doctors to determine the presence of breast cancer.
These tests can considerably help doctors in diagnosing the exact condition and designing a befitting treatment plan for patients.
Stages of Breast Cancer
Stages of breast cancer indicate its severity and extent of spread of the disease. It is mainly staged as follows.
- Stage 0 – It indicates the precancerous phase where a few abnormal cells may develop around patient’s breasts. Doctors may recommend radiation therapy for destroying such cells.
- Stage 1 – This stage marks the beginning of abnormal and cancerous cell production in patient’s breasts. Generally, lumpectomy surgery, sentinel lymph node biopsy, axillary lymph node dissection, radiation or chemotherapy are used for its treatment.
- Stage 2 and 3 – These stages signify the locally advanced cancer of breasts. During these stages cancer starts to spread around patient’s nipples, milk glands and entire breast area. In such cases, doctors may perform mastectomy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, biological therapy or targeted drug therapy.
- Stage 4 – This is the final stage of breast cancer in which cancer may spread beyond patient’s breasts and negatively affect other body parts. Doctors may use a combination of surgery, radiation, chemo drugs, biological therapy or targeted therapy for treating breast cancer patients.
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Treatment Options for Breast Cancer
The following are the major treatment options for breast cancer. Doctors will outline a treatment plan depending on stage of cancer and patient’s general health.
- Lumpectomy or Partial Mastectomy – Also known as ‘breast conserving surgery’, lumpectomy does not involve complete removal of breast. It is performed by making small incisions. Respective oncologists remove only the affected cancerous area while sparing the nearby healthy tissues in patient’s breast.
- Mastectomy – This surgical procedure involves removal of patient’s complete breast which is affected by harmful cancer cells. Doctors remove patient’s nipples, milk ducts, fatty tissues as well as lymph nodes around their breasts. Mastectomy is mainly recommended when large tumors are present in patient’s breasts.
- Sentinel Node Biopsy – This surgical approach involves removal of a sample of cells from sentinel lymph nodes of patients. This sample is taken to a specialized medical laboratory for determining the presence of cancerous cells. If the results are positive, surgeons may remove the lymph nodes completely by making incisions around the specific breast area.
- Axillary Lymph Node Dissection – This procedure is performed to remove cancerous axillary lymph nodes in patient’s breast region. Doctors simply make incisions around particular area for taking out the affected lymph nodes.
- Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy – In some instances, doctors may recommend the removal of healthy breast along with cancerous breast. Such a procedure is known as contralateral prophylactic mastectomy surgery. This might be done when patients are at a higher risk of developing cancer in another breast.
- Radiation Therapy – Radiation therapy is a simple and painless procedure that involves the use of high-intensity radiation for wiping out the cancerous cells from their root. Patients are exposed to radiation for a specific time interval and the procedure can be repeated several times for obtaining best results.
- Chemotherapy – This treatment involves use of certain medicines and drugs which are highly capable of destroying cancerous cells in patient’s breasts.
- Hormone Therapy – This treatment could prove beneficial in stopping the growth of hormones that are responsible for the multiplication of cancerous cells in patient’s breasts. Doctors may prescribe certain medicines to serve the purpose.
- Targeted Drug Therapy – It is somewhat similar to chemotherapy. However, it uses medicines and drugs which specifically target and destroy abnormalities in cancerous cells that are present in patient’s breast and do not disturb the activity of healthy cells.
- Biological Therapy – This treatment method uses patient’s own immune system for alleviating breast cancer tissues and cells. Herceptin is a widely used biological therapy drug. It triggers the production of healthy cells in patient’s breasts and attacks cancerous cells.
Risks and Complications Associated with Breast Cancer Surgery
The following points state some general risks and complications associated with surgery for breast cancer.
- Scar Tissue – Scar tissue may form around incision site.
- Temporary Problems – Patients may encounter problems such as pain, swelling, tenderness or itching around their treated breast area. These problems can be resolved by taking essential medications.
- Infection or Bleeding – There remains a risk of heavy bleeding and infection following breast cancer surgery.
- Recurrence – Breast cancer may recur and deteriorate patient’s quality of life.
Recovery Following Breast Cancer Treatment
Recovery time may vary according to the type of treatment, stage of breast cancer and patient’s overall health. Patients may feel pain and swelling around treated breast region following their surgery. They must take care of themselves and follow doctor’s guidelines in order to recover faster. Respective oncologists may recommend certain medicines and a specialized diet plan to patients that can help them in maintaining a normal weight. Life after breast cancer treatment will not be the same as it was earlier. It is natural for patients to feel sad and depressed. However, they should keep faith and try to stay relaxed. They may try talking to psychologists for feeling better and changing their frame of mind.
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