The most common type of breast cancer is “Ductal Carcinoma”, which begins in the lining of milk ducts (thin tubes that carry milk from lobules of the breast to the nipple). Another type of breast cancer is “Lobular Carcinoma”- begins in the lobules (milk ducts).
As evidenced, the US, India and China account for 1/3rd of the global breast cancer burden. The prevalence of breast cancer is increasing as in India, around 14+ lacs women are newly detected with breast cancer, out of which 70,000 die. To put it in simple terms, for every 2 women diagnosed with breast cancer, one is dying. There has been a significant shift in the paradigm because 25 years back, several patients were above 50+ years of age, presently 48% patients are below 50. However, many patients are between 25 to 40 years of age, and this is actually a very disturbing trend.
What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
- Lump in a breast
- Pain in the armpits or breast that does not seem to be related to the woman's menstrual period
- Pitting or redness of the skin of the breast; like the skin of an orange
- Rash around (or on) one of the nipples
- Swelling (lump) in one of the armpits
- An area of thickened tissue in a breast
- One of the nipples has a discharge; sometimes it may contain blood
- The nipple changes in appearance; it may become sunken or inverted
- The size or the shape of the breast changes
- The nipple-skin or breast-skin may have started to peel, scale or flake.
What are the risk factors for Breast Cancer?
Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors (other than being a woman and growing older).
The risk factors you cannot change
- Genetic risk factor
- Family history of breast cancer
- Personal history of breast cancer
- Race and ethinicity
- Menstrual period - Women who have had more menstrual cycles because they started menstruating early (before age 12) and/or went through menopause later (after 55) has a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
The Risk factors you can change
- Having children - Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk. Having many pregnancies and becoming pregnant at a young age reduces breast cancer risk.
- Oral contraceptives - Women using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer.
- Hormone therapy after menopause - Using combined hormone therapy after menopause increases the risk of getting breast cancer. It may also increase the chances of dying from breast cancer
- Breastfeeding - Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if it is continued till 2 years.
- Drinking alcohol - The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese - Being overweight or obese after menopause increases breast cancer risk.
- Physical activity – Exercises reduce the breast cancer risk
How is Breast cancer diagnosed?
Women are usually diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine breast cancer screening, or witnessing certain signs and symptoms. Below are examples of diagnostic tests and procedures for breast cancer:
- Breast exam
- Breast ultrasound
- Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
What are the treatment options for breast cancer?
A multi-disciplinary team will be involved in a breast cancer patient's treatment. The main breast cancer treatment options may include:
- Radiation therapy (radiotherapy)
- Biological therapy (targeted drug therapy)
- Hormone therapy
Can breast cancer be prevented?
There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But few things like maintaining an ideal body weight, doing physical activity and consuming an ideal diet can reduce the risk of breast cancer.