Breast Cancer is diagnosed as a lump or a tumour in the breast. Primarily, breast cancers affect women, however, it also affect about 1% of men. Among women, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer found, only second to non-melanoma skin cancers.
About 80% percent of all breast cancers start in the ducts and are called as ductular cancer, whereas, 10 to 15 percent take place in the lobes and are termed as lobular cancer. Medullary cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, angiosarcoma, mucinous carcinoma, phyllodes tumours, etc. are all examples of different types of breast cancer.
Infiltrating ductal carcinomas and infiltrating lobular carcinomas are terms that are used for ductal or lobular cancers that metastasize and spread to other adjacent areas in the body like the lymph nodes under the arm, liver, the brain and bones.
Every one in eight women world over has a 13% chance of having breast cancers. World over, about 25 percent of all cancers in women are breast cancer. In the year 2012, statistics have estimated that about 1.68 million cases of breast cancer were reported and about 522000 cases of death due to breast cancers have been reported.
The survival rates of breast cancers are slowly on the rise due to awareness and early detection. This has led to a steady decline in the mortality rate due to breast cancer over the years.
Myanmar ranks 130th world over for occurrence of breast cancers among women. Breast cancer related deaths in Myanmar, according to data published by WHO, are estimated at a 0.70 percent of all deaths, or about 2791 deaths caused.
Breast cancers are caused by a number of actors. Breast cancer in women usually has no causative factors apart from gender and age.
- After the age of 30, one in 280 women has a chance of contracting breast cancer. After 40, the rate comes to one in 70, at 50 years it reduces to one in 40 and at 60 years, it further goes down to one in 30. Caucasian women are at more risk of developing breast cancers.
- Other common risk factors include genetics, where the inheritance of the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 genes cause breast cancer.
- Hormonal factors that increase the risks of breast cancers include women experiencing menstruation early in their lives or those who undergo menopause later than 55 years of age.
- Those who take hormonal steroids for post-menopausal symptoms are also at increased risk.
Breast cancer in its early stages has no symptoms. However, some common symptoms include:
- A lump in the breast, under the arm or near the collarbone, that does not go away
- Bloody discharge, especially from only one nipple
- Changes in the appearance or shape f breasts
- New nipple inversions
- Redness, peeling, flaking or scaling of the pigmented areola that surrounds the nipple.
When should I visit a doctor?
If you find any lump in the breast, armpit or collarbone, you should get a check-up done. However, any of the aforementioned symptoms warrant a through medical check-up.
Breast cancer is diagnosed by first conducting a physical check. Next a mammogram, breast MRI or a breast ultrasound can be advised. If a tumour is present, the doctor may opt for a biopsy to determine malignancy of the tumour.
The first step in treatment of cancer is to determine the stage the cancer is. This is done on basis of the size of the tumour, the parts of the breast that are affected and if the cancer has metastasized. The stages of breast cancer are from 0 to IV where 0 indicates a small non-invasive tumour, I is a lesser than 2cm tumour that has not yet metastasized, II indicates spreading to the lymph nodes, or a larger chancer that has not spread, stage III involves a larger than 5cm tumour with more lymph node involvement, stage IV is an advanced stage of the cancer indicating metastasis.
The treatment depends upon the stage in which the cancer is found. In most cases, surgery is the mainstay for breast cancer, coupled with chemotherapy, radiation, targeted drug therapy and hormone therapy.
- Radiation therapy – This could be prescribed to kill cancerous cells from the outside via beams, or from the inside using needles, catheters and seeds. This is usually used in early stages of cancer. Radiation is often used along with surgery and chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. In chemotherapy, chemical drugs are given intravenously or orally in combination, often with radiation and surgery.
- Surgery – in surgery, a doctor could prescribe removing the lump (lumpectomy), the entire breast (mastectomy), removing a limited number or a larger number of lymph nodes, removing both the breasts.
- Hormone therapy – Hormone therapy aims at blocking hormones from affecting tumours and is used at times with surgery to shrink or reduce the size of tumours, or after surgery to reduce chances of the cancer returning.
Advancements in medicine, more awareness among women and early detection have enabled an excellent prognosis of breast cancer. For successful treatment of breast cancer, early detection is crucial.
Breast cancer risks include age and gender – factors that one cannot help. However, prevention of breast cancers can be done by conducting regular check-ups and screening to enable early detection. Apart from these, women should lead a healthy lifestyle and focus on a healthy diet, rich with antioxidants.