Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, worldwide. Breast cancer is a type of cancer originating from breast tissue, primarily from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers that originate from ducts are known as ductal carcinomas, while those originating from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas. While the majority of cases are found in women but male breast cancer can also occur. Breast cancer rates are much higher in developed nations compared to developing ones. There are several reasons for this, with possibly ife-expectancy being one of the key factors.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER Women who detect any of the following signs or symptoms should tell their doctor:
• A lump in the breast
• Pain in the armpits or breast that does not seem to be related to menstrual period
• Pitting or redness of the skin of the breast, like the skin of an orange
• A rash around one of the nipples
• A swelling (lump) in one of the armpits
• An area of thickened tissue in a breast
• Discharge from nipple(s), sometimes it may contain blood
• The nipple changes in appearance; it may become sunken or inverted
• Change in size or shape of the breast
• The nipple-skin or breast-skin may start to peel, scale or flake
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF BREAST CANCER? Getting older – Age is a risk factor. Over 80 per cent of all female breast cancers occur among women aged 50+ years (after the menopause).
Genetics – Women who have a close relative who has/had breast or ovarian cancer are more likely to develop breast cancer. The majority of breast cancers are not hereditary. Women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a considerably higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. These genes can be inherited. TP53, another gene, is also linked to greater breast cancer risk.
A history of breast cancer: Women, who have had breast cancer, are more likely to develop the disease again, compared to women who have had no history of the disease.
Having had certain types of breast lumps: Women who have had some types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps are more likely to develop cancer later.
Dense breast tissue: Women with denser breast tissue have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Estrogen exposure: Women who menarched (started having periods) earlier or menopaused later than usual have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This is because their bodies have been exposed to estrogen for longer.
Obesity: Experts say that there are higher levels of estrogen in obese menopausal women, which may put them at a higher risk.
Height: Taller-than-average women have a slightly greater likelihood of developing breast cancer than shorter-than-average women. Experts are not sure why.
Alcohol consumption: The more alcohol a woman drinks regularly, the higher is her risk of developing breast cancer.
Radiation exposure: Undergoing x-rays and CT scans may raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer slightly.
HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy): HRT therapies may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer slightly. Certain jobs, especially those that bring the human body into contact with possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors are linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
DIAGNOSTIC TESTS AND PROCEDURES FOR BREAST CANCER Breast exam: The physician will check both the breasts, looking out for lumps and other possible abnormalities, such as inverted nipples, nipple discharge, or change in breast shape.
X-ray (mammogram): If anything unusual is found, the doctor may order a diagnostic mammogram.
Breast ultrasound: This may help doctors decide whether a lump or abnormality is a solid mass or a fluid-filled cyst.
Biopsy: A sample of tissue from an apparent abnormality, such as a lump, is surgically removed and sent to the lab for analysis. It the cells are found to be cancerous, the lab will also determine what type of breast cancer it is. Breast MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans: MRI provides a useful indication of a breast tumour’s response to pre-surgical chemotherapy much earlier than possible through clinical examination.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR BREAST CANCER The specialist will choose the best treatment depending upon many factors. The main breast cancer treatment options may include: • Radiation therapy (radiotherapy)
• Biological therapy (targeted drug therapy)
• Hormone therapy
PREVENTING BREAST CANCER Some lifestyle changes can help significantly reduce a woman’s risk of developing Breast Cancer.
Physical exercise: Exercising five days a week has been shown to reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Physical activity can lower breast cancer risk, before/after menopause. Diet: Some experts say that women who follow a healthy, well-balanced diet may reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.
Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Limiting hormone therapy may help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. It is important for the patient to discuss the pros and cons thoroughly with her doctor. Body Weight: Women who have a healthy body weight have a considerably lower chance of developing breast cancer compared to obese and overweight females.