It is the most prevalent form of cancer in women all over the world, and the single largest cause of death due to cancer in women from all over the globe. Once regarded as the bane of the western world, breast cancer is now on the rise even in the developing countries thanks to changes in lifestyle, dietary habits and urbanization.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer refers to a cancerous growth that occurs in the breast tissue when some cells are abnormal and begin growing in an uncontrollable manner. Depending on the site in the tissue where the cancer starts growing, breast cancer is generally of two types: lobular carcinoma and ductal carcinoma.
Lobular carcinoma begins in the lobules of the breast whereas ductal carcinoma occurs in the ducts or tubes that carry the milk to the nipple from the breast. Ductal carcinoma is more common than lobular carcinoma.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
There is no way of identifying breast cancer very early because there are hardly any symptoms. When the cancer has grown, it may cause symptoms such as:
- A hard lump in the armpit or the breast region that may or may not be painful
- Redness in the breast and nipple region
- Change in the shape and size of the breast or nipple
- Oozing out of a liquid from the nipple; this liquid may appear clear, pus-like, blood-like, green or yellow in color
- Pain, discomfort, or tenderness in the breast
- Swelling of the arm without any other reason
- Pain in the bone around the armpits and the breast
- Ulceration of the skin of the breast
- Weight loss
There are some risk factors for breast cancer that are beyond your control. For example, women are more prone to breast cancer than men, and women above 50 years of age are more likely to suffer. If someone in your close family has had cancer of the colon, ovary, uterus or breast, you are more likely to have breast cancer. Certain defects in the genes may mean that your body cannot synthesize the cancer-protective proteins and this increases risk.
However, certain risk factors are within your control and to be avoided. Women who drink more than 2 glasses of alcohol per day, those who have children after 30 years of age, those who have been on hormone replacement therapy, and women who have received radiation as treatment for some other cancer are at higher risk for breast cancer.
Detection of Breast Cancer
Doctors perform a hands-on examination of the armpits, breasts, and chest and neck region to detect presence of lumps. Besides a mammogram to image the breast, they may recommend other tests such as a breast MRI, ultrasound or biopsy to check the nature of the lump. After the doctor identifies the lump as a cancer, he can determine the stage of the cancer to decide about the mode of treatment.
Treating Breast Cancer
Depending on the stage of the cancer, doctors choose to use methods such as radiation, surgery or chemotherapy to deal with breast cancer. Along with these, patients may also need to take some hormones to prevent growth of cancerous cells.
In many cases, doctors may decide to combine different forms of treatment for best results. If the cancer is in the initial stages (I, II and III), it is possible to cure it and prevent recurrence. In more advanced stages, cure is not possible and treatment can only help the patient stay alive for longer.
It is important for women to gain awareness about breast cancer. As the World Health Organization says, the best way to tackle this disease is by providing the necessary education and popularizing the breast cancer screening tests that help to detect breast cancer.