Definition of Breast Cancer
Cancer is a disease characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Breast cancer is any type of malignant (cancerous) growth in the breast tissue.
Causes and Risk Factors of Breast Cancer
No one knows exactly why a normal breast cell becomes a cancerous one, and there is probably no single cause. It is thought, however, that breast cancer results from a combination of risk factors.
The most common risk factors include:
>a family history of breast cancer
> early menstruation
> late menopause
> women who are over 40 years of age when they bear their first child
> women who have not borne children
> obesity and high-fat diet
Speculated risk factors include:
> use of hormones (postmenopausal estrogen therapy and birth control pills)
> diet (high intake of fats and fibers)
> environmental toxins (exposure to electromagnetic fields and pesticides)
> existing medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic cystic disease of the breast
> women with malignancies in other body sites
> alcohol consumption
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. In fact, when it first develops, breast cancer may cause no symptoms at all. But as the cancer grows, it can cause these changes:
> a lump or thickening in the breast or armpit
> a change in the size or shape of the breast
> discharge from the nipple
> a change in the color or texture of the skin of the breast or areola (such as dimpling, puckering, or scaliness).
Note: any changes in the breast should be reported to a doctor without delay. Symptoms can be caused by cancer or by a number of less serious conditions. Early diagnosis is especially important for breast cancer because the disease responds best to treatment before it has spread. The earlier breast cancer is found and treated, the better a woman's chance for complete recovery.
The diagnosis may be established by a careful physical examination, mammography, ultrasonography and, if needed, a biopsy
> Mammography is an x-ray of the breast that reveals any suspicious areas.
> Ultrasonography uses high frequency sound waves that enter the breast and bounce back. The pattern of their echoes produce a picture called a sonogram that detects whether the breast lump is solid (possibly cancerous) or filled with fluid (non-cancerous).
> If further tests are needed, the doctor will recommend a biopsy. There are three ways to do breast biopsies: fine needle aspiration, large core breast biopsy and surgical biopsy. Fine needle aspiration (FNA) uses a fine needle, inserted into the breast tissue, to withdraw cells from the suspicious area. Large core breast biopsy uses a large core needle in a spring-loaded device that removes "cores" or plugs of tissue from the suspicious area. Surgical biopsy is the surgical removal of part or all of the lump or suspicious area.
Needle Biopsy of the Breast
| If breast cancer is diagnosed, the doctor will then determine the stage (phase or progression) of the cancer |
Treatment of Breast Cancer
There are two methods of treatment - local or systemic.
Local treatments are used to remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in a specific area. Surgery and Radiation therapy are examples of local treatments.
Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy are examples of systemic treatments.
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. There are two types: breast-sparing surgery and mastectomy.
Breast-sparing surgery such as lumpectomy removes the cancerous lump but not the breast. If needed, the doctor will also remove the fat pad from the armpit through a small underarm incision for analysis. This procedure is called axillary node dissection and is usually performed at the same time as the lumpectomy.
Mastectomy - [Please Click Here]
Radiation therapy (also called x-ray therapy, radiotherapy, cobalt treatment, or irradiation) uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. Radiation may come from an outside source or from radioactive materials placed directly in the breast, sometimes both are used. The patient receives external radiation treatments as an outpatient, usually 5 days a week for 5 or 6 weeks. At the end of that time, an extra "boost" of radiation is usually given to the treatment site. The boost may be either external (using electron beam therapy) or internal (using an implant). A short hospital stay is required for implant radiation.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in different ways - by mouth or by injection into a muscle or vein. It can act on cancer cells outside the breast area. Some of these drugs are given in cycles so that treatment periods alternate with rest periods. Depending on the specific drugs, most patients take their chemotherapy as an outpatient at the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Sometimes it may be necessary to stay in the hospital for a period of time so the effects of the treatment can be watched.
Hormone therapy is used to prevent cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. This treatment may include the use of drugs (such as tamoxifen [Nolvadex]) that interfere with hormone activity or surgery that removes hormone-producing organs. Like chemotherapy, hormone therapy can act on cells all over the body.
Prevention of Breast Cancer
1. Examine Your Breasts Every Month Beginning At Age 20 (see your doctor for self breast exam instructions). Check for: new lump (painful or not), unusual thickening of tissue, discharge from the nipples, change in the skin of nipples or breasts, or different breast size or shape than before.
2. Have Your Doctor Examine Your Breasts Every Year Or Two Beginning At Age 30
3. Have A Mammogram Every Year After Age 50
Questions To Ask Your Doctor About Breast Cancer
What caused the cancer?
What is the usual course of the disease?
Metastasis: If the cancer spreads, where will it go and how will it be detected?
What are the symptoms of recurrence?
What can be done if the treatment doesn't work?
What determines whether the treatment is working or not?
How can the symptoms of cancer, such as pain, fatigue and weight loss be alleviated?
What does remission mean?