Breast cancer occurs when the cells in the breast grow out of control. These cells tend to divide more rapidly than healthy ones and accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts (milk-carrying glands) or lobules (milk-producing glands).
According to WHO (World Health Organisation), breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world, with 7.8 million women alive and 0.65 million deaths annually. Although the majority of breast cancer patients are women, it affects a small percentage of men too. WHO estimates this percentage to be 0.5-1%.
It is very much necessary to create awareness of such a prevalent disease and save lives. This breast cancer awareness week, AJ hospital brings a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) about breast cancer to help the readers have a better understanding.
What causes breast cancer?
Certain lifestyles and environmental factors increase the risk of breast cancer. They include increasing age, gender, obesity, alcohol abuse, genetics, family history, radiation exposure, tobacco use and postmenopausal hormone therapy.
Does having a benign tumour in my breast increase my chance of getting breast cancer?
Most breast lumps are benign and not cancerous (malignant). Non-cancerous breast tumours do not spread outside to the other parts of the body and are not life-threatening. But some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. These lumps must be thoroughly examined by a qualified health care professional to determine the type and the risk.
What are the controllable risk factors for breast cancer?
One cannot change uncontrollable risk factors like age, family history and gender. However, one can reduce the lifestyle-related risk factors by maintaining a healthy weight, indulging in physical activity, breastfeeding for a long time, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
What are some warning signs of breast cancer that I should watch out for?
The most common sign of breast cancer is the lump developed in the breast. This lump may or may not be painful.
The other symptoms include:
alteration in size, shape or appearance of a breast;
dimpling, redness, pitting or other alteration in the skin;
change in nipple appearance or alteration in the skin surrounding the nipple (areola); and/or
abnormal nipple discharge.
One must get themselves examined immediately at the nearest speciality hospital at first signs of such symptoms.
What are the possible treatments, and what are their side effects?
There are many treatment options available for breast cancer.
Surgery: Here, the cancer tissues are surgically removed to prevent the spread.
Radiation therapy: In radiation therapy, radiation is given to kill/control the cancer-causing cells in the breast, lymph nodes and surrounding areas of the breast.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy makes use of special medicines to shrink or kill cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
Hormonal therapy: Blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
Biological therapy: This therapy works with your body’s immune system to help it fight cancer cells and control side effects from other cancer treatments.
Breast cancer treatments can be highly effective with a 90% of survival rate if the disease is identified early. Having said that, these treatments accompany many side effects with them. They affect healthy cells and can change how you feel. Common side effects include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weakness and fatigue, mouth sores, hair loss, weight gain, early menopause, a higher risk of infections, bleeding and diarrhoea.
When should I start screening for breast cancer?
Breast cancer screening involves checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. Although this screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it helps in detecting cancer at an early stage. Breast screening methods include X-Ray (Mammogram), Breast MRI and Clinical Breast Exam.
Like any other cancer, breast cancer is a deadly disease. Taking preventive measures, making lifestyle changes and getting periodic health checkups and screening can help prevent this disease or reduce its intensity.
The oncology section of AJ hospital includes three departments: Medical, Surgery and Radiation. These departments are accomplished centres for cancer treatment that have well-trained professionals and state of the art technology.