In a normal human body, old cells die and new cells are formed. However, in cases of cancer, the old cells do not die and hence the natural mechanism of cell replacement stops functioning. The abnormal cells would form a mass of tissue called a tumor. This is called cancer.
Breast cancer occurs when the cancer is formed in the cells of the breast. Breast cancer commonly occurs in females but it may occur in males as well.
Anatomy of the Breast
In order to understand Breast Cancer, it will be important to understand the anatomy of the Breast.
Breasts are specialized organs, located on the anterior (front) of the chest wall. The breast are more developed in females as compared to males. Breast contain a lot of glands that grow & develop during puberty & maturation. For promoting growth & development in females, hormones such as Oestrogen & Progesterone play an important role.
Many changes may occur in breast during pregnancy to prepare for the baby and produce milk
The components of Breast are:
- Lobules or Milk glands that produce and supply milk.
- Areola (pink/brown pigmented region surrounding the nipple)
- Connective (fibrous) tissue
- Special ducts that transfer milk from the lobules to the nipple
Signs & Symptoms of Breast Cancer
- Lump or tissue thickening in the breast
- Pain in the breast
- Discharge or bloody discharge from the nipple
- Inverted nipple
- A lump under the arm
- Peeling or scaling of skin on the nipple or breast
Symptoms of breast cancer in males are similar to the symptoms in females. The presence of a lump in the breast in males leads to the diagnosis of breast cancer in males.
Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
Breast self examination
Breast self-exam or regularly examining your breasts on your own, can be an important way to find a breast cancer early, when it’s more likely to be treated successfully. While no single test can detect all breast cancers early, performing breast self-exam in combination with other screening methods can increase the odds of early detection.
Tests that can help diagnose breast cancer include:
- Mammogram: This is an imaging test that helps to see below the surface of breasts. A tumor or suspicious spot leads to the presence of breast cancer.
- Ultrasound: This helps to create a picture of the tissues deep in your breast.
- Breast Biopsy: A sample tissue is removed from the suspicious area and send for examination.
- MRI: This test will help to make detailed pictures of areas inside the breast.
Causes & risk factors of Breast Cancer
- Intake of alcohol.
- Family history of breast cancer.
- Early menstruation
- Delay in menopause
- Never being pregnant
- Giving birth at an older age
- Dense breast tissue
Treatment of Breast Cancer
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you would most likely require a Total Breast removal (Mastectomy) or a partial lump removal (Lumpectomy). In addition, you would need Radiation Therapy and or Chemotherapy to prevent further growth and metastasis.
Medical Oncologists and Surgical Oncologists
Your treatment process would involve consultation with Medical Oncologist who would advise on the investigations and recommend the surgery (as applicable) and the Surgical Oncologist would be doing the surgery. Post surgery (in most cases) you will have to undergo Radiation Therapy under the Radiologist.
To begin with, it will be a good idea to select a good Medical Oncologist specializing breast cancer. You should also ensure that the hospital has good surgical oncologist and Radiation Therapy (not all hospitals have Radiation therapy).
Surgical options includes:
- Mastectomy, the whole breast is removed, or,
- Lumpectomy, the tumor and the tissue around it is removed.
Radiation Therapy is a kind of cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation beams to kill cancer cells to shrink the tumors. Radiation kills the cancer cells by destroying the DNA. Cancer cells with damaged DNA fail to multiply and die. They are then removed by the body’s mechanism. (Read more on: Radiation Therapy)
Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drug that helps to slow or stop the growth of rapidly dividing cells that cause cancer. It prevents the growth of rapidly dividing cells by killing the dividing cells.
Despite its side effects, chemo is still the most widely used cancer treatment option. Unlike radiation and surgery which treats cancer cells at particular locations, chemotherapy drugs can kill cancer cells that have metastated (spread) to different organs in the body. (Read more on: Chemotherapy)
Immunotherapy (also called biological therapy) is a new type of cancer treatment where the body’s immune system is boosted to help the body fight cancer by itself. Immunotherapy uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function. ( Read more on: Immunotherapy)
Hormones of our body are produced in the endocrine glands like thyroid, pancreas, ovaries & testes. Some hormones may help growth of cancers like breast & prostate cancer. In hormone therapy, medications are given to deprive the cancer cells of the hormones they need to grow. In some cases, the specific gland responsible for hormone may be surgically removed. (Read more on: Hormone Therapy)