WHAT IS BREAST CANCER?
This is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control. Breast cancer cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women. Each year, October has been declared as breast cancer awareness month.
It is important to understand that most breast lumps are harmless and not cancer. Non-cancerous breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast. They are not life-threatening, but some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting cancer of the breast. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care professional to determine if it is harmless or cancerous and if it might affect your future cancer risk.
Where in the breast does cancer start?
Cancers of the Breast can start from different parts of the breast.
- Most begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancers)
- Some start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancers)
- A small number of cancers start in other tissues in the breast.
Risk Factors for developing breast cancer
- Getting older. The risk increases with age; most cancers of the breast are diagnosed after the age of 50 yrs.
- Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history. Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting cancer of the breast.
- Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get cancers of the breast.
- Personal history of cancerous or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had cancer of the breast are more likely to get it again a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer. A woman’s risk is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who has had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with cancer of the breast also raises a woman’s risk.
- Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts before age 30 have a higher risk of getting cancer of the breast later in life.
BREAST CARE – SELF MEASURES
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating a well-balanced diet of vegetables, good quality meats and proteins, healthy fats, and nutrient-dense foods is essential to being vital and healthy.
- Move your body: Research suggests that increased physical activity, reduces overall breast-cancer risk by about 10 percent to 30 percent.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking cigarettes is associated with an increased risk of many cancers including that of the breast in women and is dangerous for your body.
- Breastfeed your babies for as long as you can: Not only is breastfeeding good for your baby, it’s good for you as well. It is estimated that you reduce your risk by 4.1 percent for every 12 months of breastfeeding. So, the longer that you breastfeed, the better it is for your breast health.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of some cancers including the breast It’s recommended to have no more than 1 glass of alcoholic drink per day.
- Practice breast-self exams: It’s a great habit to get into examining your breasts on a regular basis. Get to know your breasts, and that way if there any changes in your breast tissue, you will know.
BREAST CANCER SCREENING
Screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease.
A breast self-exam is a check-up a woman does at home to look for changes or problems in the breast tissue. Many women feel that doing this is important to their health. Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month.
- Begin by lying on your back. It is easier to examine all breast tissue if you are lying down.
- Place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, gently yet firmly press down using small motions to examine the entire right breast.
- Next, while sitting or standing, feel your armpit, because breast tissue goes into that area.
- Gently squeeze the nipple, checking for discharge.
- Repeat the process on the left breast.
- Next, stand in front of a mirror with your arms by your side.
- Look at your breasts directly and in the mirror. Look for changes in skin texture, such as dimpling, puckering, indentations, or skin that looks like an orange peel.
- Also, note the shape and outline of each breast.
- Check to see if the nipple turns inward.
External methods for Breast Cancer Screening
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. For many women, mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat, and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. At this time, a mammogram is the best way to find cancers of the breast for most women.
2. Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
A breast MRI uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breast. MRI is used along with mammograms to screen women who are at high risk of getting breast cancer. Because breast MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer, they are not used for women at average risk.
3. Ultrasono – Mammogram
This is defined as ultrasonography of breasts. Ultrasound imaging of the breast uses sound waves to produce pictures of the internal structures of the breast. It is primarily used to help diagnose breast lumps or other abnormalities your doctor may have found during a physical exam, mammogram, or breast MRI. Ultrasound is safe, non-invasive and does not use radiation. This procedure requires little to no special preparation. Leave jewelry at home and wear loose, comfortable clothing. You will be asked to undress from the waist up and to wear a gown during the procedure.
WARNING SIGNS OF BREAST CANCER
Different people have different symptoms, while some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. Some common warning signs of breast cancer are described below: –
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
- Pulling in (retraction) of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
Reference links: Susan G Komen – Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
Dr. Puja Dewan, MBBS, DGO, DNB, MRCOG(UK), FRCOG(UK), PhD, DHA, DMLS, MNAMS, FIMS, FICMCH, FIMSA, FICOG, FRSH(UK) is a Senior Consultant Gynaecologist, Fertility (&IVF) Specialist, and the Founder and Director of Arcady Life, New Delhi. She is an acclaimed speaker in several women’s health awareness programs and scientific conferences. She is also a popular singer of devotional and spiritual music and has been part of several musical projects and collaborations with other renowned musicians. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Pooja Singh, PhD is Assistant Professor at Maharaja Surajmal Institute, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. Email – email@example.com