Breast cancer is one of the most invasive forms of cancer affecting females worldwide. As the name suggests, this cancer develops in the inner linings of the milk ducts or lobules in the breasts, of which the former is called ductal carcinoma while the latter is called lobular carcinoma. Breast cancers, if not detected and diagnosed in time, may invade other parts of the body, thereby leading to serious complications.
How do cancer cells develop?
Our body is made up of millions of microscopic cells that form various body tissues. When these cells multiply, the older cells are replaced by newer cells, and this process happens in a constant and orderly fashion. However, in abnormal cases of cell multiplication, more cells are formed uncontrollably resulting in excess amount of body cells. This condition is what is known as cancer. When this multiplication of cells occur in the breast tissues, it is called breast cancer, of which ductal cancers are more common than lobular cancers.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Symptoms of breast cancer during the initial stages are not visible and may not be noticed by the patient unless she does a self-breast examination, which is advised to be done by all females over 15 years of age. The most common symptoms include rashes or swelling or thickened mass of tissue or lumps. Though lumps are the most common symptom, not all lumps are cancerous. However, it is advised to get these lumps checked by a health care professional at the earliest to rule out cancers. Other symptoms include pain in the armpits or breasts which is usually not related to the woman’s menstrual cycle, clear discharge or blood from the nipples and change in the appearance of the nipples.
Diagnosis of breast cancer
Usually women are advised to conduct self-breast exams once they cross the age of 15. This is how most cancers in the breasts are diagnosed in the initial stages itself. Other methods of diagnosis follow such as mammograms, ultrasound screening, biopsy and breast MRI.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Most women have increased chances of developing the risk of breast cancer with age. Nearly 80% of the women with breast cancers occur in the post-menopausal age groups. This is mainly due to the higher levels of the female hormone, estrogen, in the blood. Before menopause, estrogen is primarily produced in the ovaries of the woman. Post menopause, estrogen is released from fatty tissues as well, resulting in abnormally high levels of the hormone.
Sometimes, this disease lies in the genes as well. If a woman comes from the same family with instances of breast cancers or ovarian cancers in the family, chances are high that she too might inherit the same cancerous genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53 as well. However, not all breast cancers are hereditary.
Women who have been previously diagnosed and treated for breast cancer are at greater risk of developing the disease, when compared to women who have never had a history of cancer.
Women are likely to develop non-cancerous or benign breast lumps during their journey from menarche to menopause. However, this formation of breast lumps is also identified as a risk factor for developing breast cancer over the years.
Women with denser breast tissues are more susceptible to develop breast cancer over the years.
Women usually tend to become obese post menopause and enter the breast cancer risk zone due to higher estrogen released by fatty tissues. However, experts say that it is not only post-menopausal obesity that puts you at greater risk for developing breast cancer, but also obesity caused due to lifestyle patterns can put you at risk.
Some women tend to resort to hormone replacement therapy to make up for the hormone loss after menopause. This may be in the form of pills, injections or hormone patches that allow female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, to pass into the blood in order to avoid post-menopausal discomforts. However, both combined as well as estrogen only HRTs puts a woman in the risk zone of developing breast cancer.
The treatment provided depends on the type of breast cancer, the stage of cancer, patient’s overall health and preferences. The most common treatments conducted are radiotherapy, surgical removal of the cancerous mass, targeted drug therapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy. In cases of surgery, the following types of surgery are performed:
Breast reconstruction surgery – This is usually performed alongside mastectomy, where tissues from other parts of the body such as the abs or thighs, or silicone implants are used to reconstruct the breast, in cases where surgical removal of the entire breast is the only available treatment option.