Contributed by – Dr Deepak Parashar
According to studies, one woman dies of breast cancer every 8 minutes in India. With that one statistic, you can understand that breast cancer has become the most common type of cancer found in women and is the second leading cause of death after heart diseases. While cancer cannot be prevented, the deaths it causes can surely be reduced. Proper awareness of the symptoms and timely diagnosis can help in fighting and treating this illness. In this blog, we give you all the information necessary in dealing with the deadly disease: breast cancer.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a condition when a cluster or group of cancer cells is formed in the breast. This cluster is also known as a malignant tumour. These cells can invade other body parts uncontrollably. Although both men and women can be affected by this condition, it is more common in women. Most breast cancers begin either in lobules which is a breast tissue made up of glands for milk production or in the ducts which connect the lobules to the nipples.
What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
Breast cancer may not always show any sign in its early stage. And whenever it does, the following are the most common reported:
- A lump that feels different from the rest of the breast.
- Discharge from nipple other than breast milk
- Rash on or around nipple
- Breast swelling
- Obvious asymmetry between two breasts
- Red and hot skin
- Pain or tenderness
- Growth of the vein over breast
- Pulling or puckering of the skin under the tumour
- Retraction of the skin on the breast
- Nipple retraction
- Destruction of the skin
Keep in mind that the symptom you notice could also be the cause of another health issue. So, it is important for you to get it checked by a professional for correct diagnosis.
What are the risk factors of breast cancer?
A lot of factors can contribute to the development of breast cancer in women. The common ones are:
Age – Women over the age of 50 are more prone to developing breast cancer. However, lately cases of breast cancer in younger women have also been found.
Family history – If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, then you need to be more alert about noticing it early.
Clinical history – Risk of developing breast cancer is higher if you have previously suffered from benign cancer.
Late pregnancy – Women who have their first pregnancy late, usually after 35, are at a higher risk.
Prolonged hormonal exposure – A long menstrual life or possibly use of hormone replacement therapy after the menopause expose women to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Lifestyle – Being overweight or obese after menopause, physical inactivity, a high-fat diet and high alcohol consumption can also heighten the chances of developing breast cancer.
What are the types of breast cancer?
There are various types of breast cancers depending on the cells in the breast that are affected. In the broadest sense, they can be divided into two types – In situ and invasive. In situ breast cancer is when it has not spread to the other parts. While in invasive, it has invaded or spread into the surrounding tissues. The most common types of breast cancer are Ductal carcinoma and Lobular carcinoma and rarely reported types of cancer are Paget disease of the nipple, Phyllodes tumour and Angiosarcoma.
How breast cancer spreads?
Breast cancer most commonly spreads to bones, brain, liver and lungs. There are a lot of ways for this cancer to spread in the body. There can be a direct invasion in which the tumour can spread to the nearby organ. The cells can take root and start growing in that area. Cancer cells can also spread because of the lymphatic system. In this lymphangitic spread, these cells enter the lymph circulatory system and affect different body parts. Another way for cancer to spread can be hematogenous spread where cells travel through blood vessels, similar to that of lymphangitic spread, and target new parts of the body.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
Regular screenings can help in the early diagnosis of cancer even before the symptoms appear. Or it can be identified when you get your symptoms tested. Most breast lumps turn out to be non-cancerous or benign which is not life-threatening and they do not spread to other parts of the body. However, when cancer is suspected, microscopic analysis is necessary to correctly diagnose the disease, its type and stage.
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