Breast cancer explained
Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow uncontrollably. It is the second most common form of cancer overall.
While occurrences of breast cancer have been reported in both men and women, it is women who are more afflicted by the disease. Indeed, a total of 2 million new cases of breast cancer were reported in 2018 alone.
These cancerous cells that cause breast cancer may spread through metastasis to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph vessels.
How many types of breast cancer are there?
There are two main types of breast cancer:
Invasive ductal carcinoma – this is the most common type of breast cancer. The cancerous cells break through the wall of the milk duct and start to attack breast tissue. This condition could further spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body with time.
Invasive lobular carcinoma – this form of the disease sees the cancerous cells form in the milk producing glands (lobules) of the breast. It is not as common as invasive ductal carcinoma.
Then there is the rare type:
Inflammatory breast cancer – this is a rare form of the disease and is at times confused for a breast infection. It develops rather quickly, causing the breast to be swollen and tender. This form of breast cancer happens as a result of cancerous cells blocking the lymph nodes around the breast, leading to the swollen and tender appearance of the breast. Experts hold the view that inflammatory breast cancer is an advanced form of the disease, meaning that it has spread from elsewhere in the body and could even possibly reach the lymph nodes.
What are some of the symptoms?
The symptoms associated with breast cancer are manifested through;
A lump or swelling in the breast or armpit
Emergence of a rash around the nipple
Unusual discharge from the nipple
Changes in the size and shape of the breast
Please note, some people do not get any symptoms which is why it is necessary to have frequent hospital check-ups.
How do you check your breasts for any early signs/symptoms?
This is a simple, uncomplicated process that should take just a few minutes. It is important to check the whole breast areas as well as the armpits and upper chest. It is equally advisable to carry out frequent checks and keep track of any changes.
The process is as simple as TLC – Touch, Check, Look.
Touch your breasts to feel for anything unusual, Look for any abnormal changes and Check for any changes with a medical expert (once you notice any abnormality).
What triggers breast cancer?
The exact causes of breast cancer remain unknown to date. However, there are several factors that have been identified as triggers of the disease. They include
Early onset of menstruation, pregnancy after 30 years of age, never having been pregnant, delayed menopause and post menopause hormone therapy – These situations collectively lead to an increased risk of contracting breast cancer owing to the fact that they lead to increased levels of estrogen and progesterone which raises the risk of contracting breast cancer.
Family history – There is a very likely possibility of cancer causing genetic mutations being passed from parents to their children. The commonest gene mutations are referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2 and will greatly increase the risk of breast cancer.
Obesity – This is associated with both a higher risk of developing breast cancer in post- menopausal women. This is because obesity will eventually stimulate the most malignant cancer stem cell population to drive cancer growth, invasion and a spread throughout the body.
Alcohol consumption – It may put consumers at risk of breast cancer by virtue of the fact that it can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer. Experts estimate that women who have three alcoholic drinks a week run a 15% chance of breast cancer.
Treatment and management
There are several approaches to treating and managing breast cancer. These approaches however involve the input of both the patient and their doctor in order to figure out the best options. These approaches include:
Surgery – This is usually the main treatment and management approach for breast cancer. Surgeries will vary from a complete removal of the breast ( mastectomy) to removal of the cancerous lump only ( lumpectomy).
Radiation therapy – Which is aimed at killing cancerous cells using high energy X-rays or gamma rays.
Chemotherapy – Which involves the use of a cocktail of drugs to kill dividing cancerous cells and prevent them from growing again. A person will often have chemotherapy as part of an overall treatment plan, which may also include surgery and radiation therapy. These treatments are effective in many cases of cancer. However, their effectiveness will often depend on the stage of the cancer, among other factors.
It is important to note that these options also have side effects ranging from nausea to fatigue and weight loss and as mentioned earlier, it is important to consult your doctor for advice on the best options.
Getting to know that you have cancer is a traumatizing experience. You will feel worried, anxious, stressed and even overwhelmed by the diagnosis. It is however important to remember that having the right attitude can help cope with the treatment and care that follows.