Breast cancer is the most common cancer occurring in woman, after skin cancer. While the disease can affect both men and woman, it is more common in woman. Breast cancer can even cause death, although the mortality rates have gone down greatly due to recent advances in treatment methods.
Breast cancer is a condition in which mutations in breast cells causes an abnormal multiplication of cells and this eventually leads to the formation of a tumor which can be malignant or cancerous. The cancer can develop either in the milk-producing glands called lobules or the ducts that carry the milk from the lobules to the nipples. This may eventually spread and malign the nearby healthy breast cells and may even travel up to the lymph nodes near the arms, thus resulting in the entire body becoming susceptible to cancer since the cancerous cells can spread through the lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
The disease can be differentiated broadly into two main categories, namely Invasive and Non-invasive. Invasive cancers include those cancers that can spread to other parts of the body where as in case of non-invasive cancers, the cancerous cells stay localized. Non-invasive cancers can further be divided into Ductal carcinoma in situ and Lobular carcinoma in situ. Invasive cancers can be divided into Invasive ductal carcinoma and Invasive lobular carcinoma. Each of these categories of breast cancer is explained in greater detail below.
Types of breast cancer
There are 4 types of breast cancer that are common includes:
Ductal carcinoma in situ
It is a condition in which the cells in the breast milk ducts have mutated into cancer cells. This is likely to spread into area around the ducts too and must be treated as soon as diagnosed to prevent it from spreading elsewhere.
Lobular carcinoma in situ
It is not exactly a breast cancer but, rather, a condition in which abnormal cells develop in the breast milk glands. The presence of these cells increases the risk of developing breast cancer in the future and, therefore, lobular carcinoma needs to be treated to mitigate the development of breast cancer in the future.
Invasive ductal carcinoma
It is perhaps the most common form of this disease. It begins with the formation of cancerous cells in the lining of the breast milk ducts and eventually spreads from the walls of the ducts into nearby tissues and organs and, further throughout the body through the lymph nodes or the bloodstream
Invasive lobular carcinoma
It is the second most common breast cancer after invasive ductal carcinoma. These begin in the lobules that produce milk and eventually spread into areas surrounding it as well as into other tissues and organs. Like invasive ductal carcinoma, these too spread through the lymph nodes to the rest of the body. This condition mostly affects older woman. It is however difficult to detect on physical examination and there may be chances where both the breasts are affected
What causes breast cancer?
Following are a list of factors that are likely to trigger breast cancer
- Gender: While men are likely to suffer from the disease too, it is more commonly seen in women
- Early menstruation: If you have started your menstruation early, i.e., before the age of 12, there are greater chances that you may develop breast cancer
- Alcoholism: Increased consumption of alcohol can trigger chances of breast cancer. If you drink too much, cut down on your consumption immediately. Limit yourself to not more than a glass a day
- Age: Your chances of breast cancer increases with your age. Once you’ve crossed your forties, you start becoming susceptible to breast cancer. It is good to go for routine checkups to ensure that you can start treating your breast cancer early if you happen to be diagnosed with breast cancer
- Exposure to radiation: If you have received any treatment that involved exposure to radiation, there are chances of becoming prone to breast cancer
- Family history: If anyone in your family has been diagnosed with breast cancer, such as your mother, grandmother or your daughter, there are chances that you too might develop the disease. However there are chances that you are the first in your family line to have developed the disease
- Late pregnancy: If you conceived your child at an older age, i.e., after the age of 35 years, you are prone to the disease
- Never been pregnant: If you have never carried a child of your own, you are prone to breast cancer
- Personal history of breast cancer: if you have developed cancer in one breast in the past, chances are you might develop cancer in the other breast too
- Late menopause: Having menopause at a much older age also makes you susceptible to breast cancer
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
- A swelling in any part of the breast
- Redness or pitted skin over the breasts
- A change in the shape or size of one or both the breasts
- Discharge from the nipples
- Formation of lumps or nodes
- Irritation in the breasts
- Flaking, peeling or scaling of the breast or nipple
- Inverted nipple
- A sudden pain in the breasts
- A lump/swelling under the arms
How can breast cancer be detected?
If you happen to notice one or more of the above symptoms, it is advisable to visit your doctor immediately who will further recommend you undergo either a Mammogram or an Ultrasound. Another test that might be recommended by your doctor is a Biopsy. A biopsy is done either using a needle to extract some sample tissue by making an incision in your breast. This harvested tissue will be tested in the laboratory to detect if there is any cancerous tissue.
How can breast cancer be treated?
Some of the common methods for treatment of breast cancer include the following:
- Surgery: A surgery could involve either the removal of the entire breast or only the affected portion, a procedure also known as Mastectomy.
- Radiation: This involves the use of radiation beams to destroy the cancer cells. In the case of breast cancer, this is commonly carried out by placing radiation sources inside the body rather than delivering it from an external radiation source, a method also known as brachy therapy.
- Chemotherapy is a method which involves the use of drugs which can potentially damage cancer cells. Since this method also damages healthy cells, in addition the cancerous cells, it is accompanied by a number of side effects such as fatigue, hair loss, constipation, anemia, nausea among many others.
- Targeted therapy: This method uses drugs to target the rogue or cancer cells, thereby avoiding damage to healthy tissue. The drugs are designed to block the growth or multiplication of these cancer cells. Often, the drugs target specific growth promoting proteins which are found in excess quantities on the surface of cancerous cells. The proteins thus serve both as “markers” to identify the rogue cells.