An overview of breast cancer
Breast cancer is an abnormal production of breast cells forming a mass inside the breast. It is a complex cancer and has several subtypes. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in the world behind skin cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, 55,920 cases of breast cancer were reported in 2016-1018 in which 11,499 patients have lost their lives. However, the survival rate is close to 76%, which is higher than other cancers.
Anatomy of the breast;
It is important to know the structure and shape of a breast before going into deep detail about breast cancer.
The breast is the only organ in your body that is not present by birth. Stem cells present behind the nipple can increase in number and form a breast. Puberty hormones grow the nipple and form a whole breast. When a woman becomes pregnant, the puberty hormone turns the blood into milk to nourish the baby.
Along with this, milk not only nourishes the baby but also has immunity to kill the bacteria and viruses present in the child's mouth. Breast tissue consists of ducts, veins, and lymph nodes which give rise to different types of cancer.
Types of breast cancer
Breast cancer has been divided into different subtypes based on the location and nature of cancer. These include;
a. Invasive ductal carcinoma
b. Non-invasive breast cancer
c. Inflammatory breast cancer
d. Metastasis breast cancer
e. Male breast cancer
f. Invasive lobular carcinoma
If you would like to find out more about Cancer as a whole, read our article: Cancer: A Comprehensive Guide.
Women who are at high risk for breast cancer;
Some women have a high risk of breast cancer than others. Women who have received inherited genes of breast cancer are at high risk to get cancer. 10 to 15% of all cancer occurs in patients who have mutation genes. However, not all mutations in the breast develop into cancer but have a high risk.
Breast cancer symptoms;
Following are the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer
1. Breast lumps
The initial complaint in about 80% of patients with breast cancer is breast lump, which is usually painless. About 95% of this breast lump is discovered by the woman itself.
Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it is best to check them by a qualified doctor. The doctor will arrange a test to find out whether your breast lumps are cancerous or not. Breast lump is the first symptom among breast cancer symptoms.
2. Breast pain
Breast pain is less common than other symptoms in breast cancer. However, itchy skin around the nipples appears and the breast skin become red, which shows the early warning signs of inflammatory breast cancer. Pain also occurs when the breast lumps press the nerves inside the breast.
3. Nipple discharge
Nipple discharge occurs suddenly and the discharge is other than breast milk, it may be blood or pus from the nipple depending upon the stage of cancer. The nipple may reduce in size and turn inward into the breast.
4. Breast changes
Breast changes occur in drastic ways during breast cancer in most women. The glandular tissue of the breast becomes thick and swollen. The breast skin turns red and itchy and irritations occur around the nipple skin.
5. Inflammatory breast cancer symptoms.
It is a rare type of breast cancer and has different symptoms than the other types. In this, the whole breast looks red and inflamed. The breast feels hard in consistency and the skin looks like an orange peel. This type does not cause breast lumps.
6. Lymph node
Lymph nodes are enlarged and swollen with breast cancer. Swollen lymph nodes appear under the arm and the collar bone. These lymph nodes capture the inflammatory substances from the breast and hence, become swollen.
If you have any of the symptoms stated above, take a test today and find out!
1. Tumour markers
Serum tumour markers such as Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA) can be seen in the blood of breast cancer patients. However, it is not recommended in early lesions as CEA cannot confirm whether you have a cancer or the symptoms are the result of another disease.
Serum alkaline phosphates rise in case of metastasis of breast cancer to the liver and bones. Hypercalcemia is an important finding in advanced cancer of the breast.
Ultrasound is often recommended for those lesions which are felt only by the patient.
For those patients who have suspicious symptoms and signs of metastasis or locally spread disease, a CT scan is advised to find out the stage of the
cancer. A chest x-ray may be indicated to find out the pulmonary metastasis. Other imaging techniques in breast cancer are PET, CT, and MRI.
A biopsy is considered the gold standard diagnostic test in breast cancer. The breast surgeon should not recommend any treatment option before the histological examination.
About 70% of cases are clinically declared as cancer lesions but they turned benign after biopsy. While 30% of benign lesions come out as malignant after histological examination.
A breast can be self-examined to find out any changes in your breast. You should compare your one breast with another one in size and shape. Physical examination of the breast can be carried out with the patient sitting, arm at her side.
Any changes in size, shape, or colour should be identified. The axillary area should be thoroughly examined for an enlarged lymph node. Breast cancer usually consists of a hard non-tender mass.
Breast awareness makes women aware of their breast health. Every year 13th of October is celebrated as breast cancer day around the world. This day aims to spread knowledge about breast cancer.
Women become familiar to inspect their breasts and notice any changes that occur in the breast. Breast awareness can minimise the chance of breast cancer.
Breast cancer treatment
Following are the breast cancer treatment options;
1. Breast conservative therapy
This treatment option is indicated in patients who are in stage 1 of cancer. It can be treated with partial mastectomy or breast conservation.
Here, only the portion of the breast which contains cancer cells is respected. In this type of treatment, the cancer size is a major consideration.
Mastectomy is the removal of the whole breast from the body for successful treatment. It is indicated when cancer overlaps the whole body of the breast.
A breast surgeon resects the entire breast along with the nipple and overlying skin. The adjacent lymph nodes can also be excised.
3. Others treatment options
c. Systemic therapy.
Plus get the inside scoop on our latest content and updates in our monthly newsletter.