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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent types of cancer affecting the Indian population. With its steadily climbing incidence rates, breast cancer has now become the most commonly occurring type of cancer among women in India. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, every one in 22 women will develop breast cancer within their lifetime.

There are different types of breast cancers but the one which begins in the milk duct is the most common type of breast cancer. Similar to other cancer types, in breast cancer too, the cancerous cells in the mammary glands multiply abnormally and develop into a tumor and then begin to attack lymph nodes or are carried to different part of the body.

Some of the risk factors for Breast cancer include;

  • Gender: Breast cancer is 100 times more common among women than men. This is because women possess more of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which is linked to the development of cancer cells.
  • Genetic inheritance: An estimated 5-10% of breast cancer cases are considered hereditary or mutations that have been passed on from parent to child. Defects in BRC1 and BRC2 genes are the most common cause for hereditary breast cancer. These particular genes help prevent cells from mutating or growing abnormally.
  • Increased number of menstrual cycles: Women who have had more menstrual cycles due to starting at an early age (before age 12) or go through menopause at a later age (over age 55) are at an increased risk.
  • Aging
  • Family history
  • Personal history with breast cancer
  • Dense Breast Tissue
  • Previous chest radiation exposure
  • Benign breast conditions
  • Women having no children or having their first child after the age of 30
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Being overweight
  • Minimal physical activity

Common Symptoms and Signs that Breast Cancer may be present;

  • Irregular lump in one or both breasts
  • Swelling of all or part of the breast, even if no lump is detected
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Pain in the breast or nipple
  • Nipple retraction (nipple turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

Although symptoms may suggest that cancer is present, the use of diagnostic imaging can help confirm whether the cancer really exists. The following are imaging tests that may be conducted in diagnosing breast cancer:

  • Diagnostic mammograms are x-rays of the breast where several images are taken of the area in question. Advanced diagnostic centers offer digital mammograms where the images are recorded, viewed and stored on a computer. Also, the use of digital mammography can allow for images to be sent electronically to other physicians or hospitals.
  • MRI scans of the breast use radio waves and a strong magnet in reproducing detailed images of the body. MRIs can be used in combination with mammograms in detecting cancer for high risk individuals or can be used to better assess an abnormal area.
  • Breast ultrasound is a test that uses sound waves to create an image of organs and tissue within the body. Ultrasounds are typically used to differentiate between benign and cancerous tumors. Breast ultrasounds should be used in combination with mammograms.
  • Ductogram is a test that examines the ducts where nipple discharge occurs. This is done by injecting contrast medium into the affected duct. An image is produced of the duct structure displaying any abnormalities.

Treatment Options for Breast Cancer

Treatment options may consist of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy or any combination of these treatments.

  • Surgery is performed in order to remove the tumor in the breast and possibly surrounding tissues and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses anti-cancer drugs to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy radiation beams to eliminate cancer cells or stop them from growing.Radiation therapy consists of external beam radiotherapy and brachytherapy or internal radiation therapy.
  • External beam is a treatment option that uses localized high energy radiation beams to eliminate cancer cells and keep them from growing.
  • Brachytherapy uses a radioactive substance, usually in the form of seeds which are placed directly into or near the cancer which helps to shrink the tumor.
  • Hormone therapy is a treatment that targets specific hormones linked to the cancer cells by blocking the properties associated with cell growth.