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Breast cancer

Breast cancer or carcinoma is the growth of abnormal, cancerous growth of breast tissues that result in a thickened mass or lump in the breast or the armpit which is known as malignant tumor. These cancerous cells may originate from the lobules present in the breast or milk ducts. Lobules are small milk producing glands in the breast and milk ducts help in transporting the milk to the nipple. Women are more prone to breast cancer. The latest breast cancer cases in the U.S in 2010 are estimated to be 207,090 female cases and 1,970 male cases. Breast cancer awareness can lead to early detection and early approaches to effective treatment.

Causes and risk factors of Breast Cancer

  • Age (women above 60 have more chances of developing breast cancer)
  • Family medical history (history of breast cancer in a close relative)
  • Personal medical history (having lobular carcinoma in situ or ductal carcinoma in situ )
  • Radiation therapy (women exposed to radiation therapy or treated for Hodgkin lymphoma)
  • Late pregnancy
  • Late menopause (menopause after 55 years of age)
  • Early menarche (menses appearance before the age of 12 years)
  • Issueless women are more prone to breast cancer
  • Obesity or over weight women, especially after menopause
  • Drinking alcohol- very high chances of countering breast cancer
  • Inactive women possibly have increased chances of breast cancer

Types of Breast Cancer

  • Ductal carcinoma- it is traced in the lining cells of breast ducts
  • Lobular carcinoma- lobules of the cancerous breast are affected first

Stmptoms and Signs of Breast Cancer

  • A small lump that can be felt with fingers in the breast or in the armpit
  • A sudden change in the size and appearance of the breast (will be swollen or scaly or red)
  • Inward nipple
  • Untimely discharge from the breast, sometimes bloody discharge
  • The skin on the breast or the dark skin at the central area may have pitting like the orange skin
  • An unusual dimpling in the surface of the breast

Complications associated with Breast Cancer

  • Treatment of early stage breast cancer has more than one option. If left untreated in early stages, the cancerous cells not only spread to lymph nodes, but have greater chances of spreading to other parts of the body.
  • If the breast cancer is metastatic (cancerous cells can move and invade other healthy and vital organs like liver, lung or brain) and the patient does not undergo proper treatment, it may lead to fatality. Sometimes, if the cancer cells do not move to crucial organs, the survival chances are high. The behavior of cancer cells greatly varies with each breast cancer patient.
  • It is possible that the untreated breast cancer patient may develop open tumor that will lead to infection, thus giving way to further complications and pain.
  • Radiation therapy may result in lymphedema (swelling in the breast)
  • Many women experience pain in the treated breast for a long time after the surgery.
  • Some complications that follow the treatment of breast cancer include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, memory and cognition problems, loss of sexual desire and ‘hand-and-foot’ syndrome.
  • Some treated patients may have ‘radiation pneumonitis’, which results in breathing problems and fever for around nine months after the treatment.
  • If the woman undergoing the breast cancer treatment is 45 years or less, there is a slight risk of developing cancer in the normal breast also, when they undergo radiation therapy.
  • There is a slight insecurity of causing heart diseases in their later stage of their lives, for those who take chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy.

Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

The gynecologist will do a clinical examination of the breasts for checking the presence of any breast lumps, abnormal dimpling or rashes. Your family medical history and also your personal medical history may be clearly noted. The health care provider will examine the breasts after making you raise the hands above your head level, keep your hands on your hips and stretch out your hands. After the physical check-up, an imaging test such as mammogram will be suggested.

The x-ray of breast will reveal the presence of cancer before you can feel it with your fingers. If the mammogram is positive for breast cancer, further imaging tests such as ultrasound or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is used to know the exact location and details of the abnormal breast tissue. A small sample of the affected tissue may be removed by fine needle aspiration, core biopsy, skin biopsy or surgical biopsy to confirm the presence of breast cancer. Staging of the breast cancer is done to determine if the cancer has spread to the other tissues, based on which the treatment is carried out.


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