Empowering Hope

Author - Dr. Arun Karanwal 


Breast cancer is a scary and daunting thought for many women, with some assuming it won't happen to them. Although most cases occur in women over 50, younger women can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. Shockingly, approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. However, the good news is that there's a high chance of recovery if detected in its early stages. Cure rates now range from 80 to 90% if the patient is diagnosed and treated with advanced options in the early stages. It's important to note that breast cancer is not limited to females only as in rare cases, men can also be diagnosed with this disease.

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that can either stay in one place or spread to other parts of the body. There are two main types of breast cancer: non-invasive and invasive. Non-invasive breast cancer is found in the ducts of the breast and usually doesn't spread outside the breast. It's usually found during a mammogram and doesn't usually show up as a breast lump. Invasive breast cancer is the most common type and develops in the cells that line the breast ducts. It can spread outside the breast to other parts of the body, usually through the bloodstream or lymph nodes. However, most patients will not have spread of breast cancer at the time of diagnosis, and these patients have the highest chance of being cured.

Breast cancer is a disease that affects many women around the worldWhile the exact causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, there are certain factors that increase the risk of developing it. These factors include getting older, having a family history of breast cancer, having a previous diagnosis of breast cancer, having had a previous benign breast lump, being overweight or obese, and excessive use of alcohol. It's important to be aware of these risk factors and take steps to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer can have several symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue. Most breast lumps aren't cancerous, but it's always best to have them checked by your doctor.

You should also see your primary physician if you notice any of the following:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood.
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits.
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast.

Breast pain isn't usually a symptom of breast cancer, particularly for early-stage disease. So, females should not avoid the evaluation of painless breast lumps.

If you're concerned about breast cancer, your doctor may recommend some tests to help diagnose it. They may refer you to a specialist clinic where you'll undergo a breast screening or a biopsy. You may also need more detailed tests like a CT, MRI, or PETCT scan. These tests will help your doctors plan the best treatment for you.

If cancer is detected early, it can be treated before it spreads to nearby body parts. Breast cancer is treated using a combination of:

Surgery is usually the first type of treatment you'll have, followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy or, in some cases, hormone or biological treatments. The type of surgery and the treatment you have afterward will depend on your breast cancer. Your doctor will discuss the best treatment plan with you. Many breast cancer patients are increasingly guided to start chemotherapy before surgery due to significant improvements in outcomes noted in recent research. In a small proportion of women, breast cancer is discovered after it's spread to other parts of the body (metastatic breast cancer). Metastatic cancer isn't curable, so treatment aims to achieve remission (symptom relief) with the help of different chemotherapeutic options.

Although the exact causes of breast cancer are not yet fully understood, there are some treatments available to reduce the risk of developing it, especially if you are at an increased risk. These treatments include anti-estrogen therapy for women diagnosed with in situ carcinoma and the option of preventive bilateral mastectomy for those with underlying hereditary cancer-causing mutations. There are certain lifestyle choices that can also help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, having a low intake of saturated fat and alcohol, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol intake.

Breast cancer screening aims to detect precancerous changes or very early-stage cancer cells, which can improve the chances of cure after treatment.

  1. Mammographic screening, where X-ray images of the breast are taken, is the most commonly available method of detecting an early breast lesion. It is preferably combined with USG scans of the breast and, in certain cases, MRI scans. As the risk of breast cancer increases, all women older than 40-50 should be offered regular breast cancer.
  2. Genetic tests for detected cancer-causing mutations can be offered to females having a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer
  3. Self-breast examination- Self-breast cancer (SBE) examination is an important way to detect breast cancer early. Not every cancer can be found this way, but becoming familiar with your breasts is critical to detect any abnormality. It should be done once a month, approximately 1 week after the menstrual period.

"Breast Cancer has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live." - Angelina Jolie

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