Breast cancer is a malignant tumor which develops in the breast cells. It begins in the cells of milk-producing glands. However, very rarely it can develop in the fatty, fibrous connective tissues of the breast. From a single cell it grows into a lump.
The size of the tumor helps to determine the stage of the breast cancer. Whatever be the size doctors go by the characteristic of the cancer. A small tumor may be aggressive while a larger cancer may be mild or the other way round.
Factors that contribute to breast cancer:
1. Lifestyle choices – breast cancer is known as urban malaise
2. Obesity – obese or overweight women are at high risk of breast cancer. Regular exercise boosts the immune system and cuts estrogen levels.
3. Smoking: survival rate is decreased with smoking for those with breast cancer. It is indicated that there is a link between breast cancer and cigarette smoking; even the positive smokers are at risk.
4. Alcohol: consumption of alcohol increases the level of estrogen that triggers the breast cell to become cancerous.
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5. Eating high fat food triggers estrogen which helps tumor growth. The risk can be reduced by eating low-fat food and lot of fruits and vegetables.
6. Child birth after the age of 40 and reduced breast feeding are also seen as factors that contribute to breast cancer.
1. Breast cancer is hereditary.
2. Women who are above 40 become vulnerable to breast cancer. Recent studies show that even young women are becoming victims.
3. Women who attained puberty before the age of 21, who had menopause after 55, infertile women are at risk.
4. White women are more affected than Asian and African women.
Many breast cancers don’t have any clear symptoms. The symptoms vary from lumps to swelling or skin changes.
1. A lump in the breast or underarm prominent after menstrual cycle
2. Pain, prickly sensation or tenderness in the breast
3. Swelling in the armpit.
4. Change in the size or shape of the breast
5. Appearance of the nipple
6. Blood-stained liquid discharge
Approach a doctor immediately if you find any of the above symptoms.. Mammogram and physical examination by a doctor are the most recommended way of diagnosing a breast cancer.
Self examination procedure:
Doctors advise all women to self examine themselves to detect breast cancer early.
1. Stand before a mirror. Keep your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Check carefully for any swelling or dimpling or puckering. Next watch the nipples. Are they in their normal position? Raise both your arms and look out for any changes.
2. Raise your right arm over your head and touch your right breast with your left fingers slowly and steadily and check for any lumps. Do this on both sides.
3. Lie on your back. Raise your right hand and touch your right breast with your left hand. Make some circular and up-down movements. Your finger movement should be such that you cover the whole breast and move towards your armpit. Follow a pattern of finger movement to cover the entire area starting from the nipples to shoulder bone. Don’t leave any spot unchecked.
Mastectomy and lumpectomy are the two types of surgery and radiation treatment along with these surgeries are available.
Mastectomy involves the total removal of cancerous breast when most of the part is affected by cancer and when there is a chance of recurrence. The disadvantages are:
1. Mastectomy requires longer period for recovery with some side effects.
2. It’s a permanent loss of breast.
3. Additional surgeries are needed to reconstruct the lost breast.
If there is only one site of cancer and the tumor is less than 4 cms then lumpectomy, the breast conservation followed by radiation is recommended. The disadvantages are:
1. Longer period of radiation is required.
2. Reconstruction of the breast takes longer time.
3. High risk of recurrence of cancer
4. Breast cannot withstand more radiation if cancer recurs.
When a woman doesn’t want her breast to be removed, her ovaries are removed to prevent estrogen secretion. The treatment is based on what stage the cancer is in.
In India, women feel awkward about breast examination by a doctor. They also have an inherent fear that they might have breast cancer and so they avoid going for a check-up. Though the number of incidence is less than the USA, the death rate is almost same because women approach a doctor at a very late stage.
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