Breast Cancer: It’s Good To Be Aware
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. This condition, as the name suggests, is cancer or malignancy in the breast. The first sign of breast cancer often an abnormal lump in the breast. The most effective way to prevent and manage breast cancer is early detection and treatment. Most of the time, breasts cancers go undetected because women are not comfortable with their own bodies. They ignore symptoms, fail to do self-examinations and refuse to go for breast examinations simply because they are shy. They also avoid mandatory health-check ups due to unfounded fears about mammogram and other investigations, which again causes the disease to progress beyond the point of cure. .
What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer?
Lump/ thickening in or near the breast / underarm that stays through the menstrual cycle
Mass or lump that’s as small as a pea
Clear or blood-stained fluid discharge from the nipple
Change in the breast size, shape or contour
Change in the feel/ appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple – puckered/ dimpled/ scaly/ inflamed
A marble/ stone like hardened area under the skin
Skin on the breast or nipple is red and raw
Appearance of an area/ patch on the breast that’s distinctly and abnormally different
How Is Breast Cancer Detected?
Self-Examination: Know Your Body Intimately
It’s important to know your breast intimately and have a good idea on how it looks and feels so that changes, if any, can be detected early.
It is better to wait for 3 to 5 days after your period for the self-examination. Hormonal changes in can also lead to thickness in the breast, which will go off with periods.
First, look for changes in the shape or symmetry of your breasts, by looking in a mirror
The rest of the self-exam is can be done in the shower, using soap to make sure your skin is smooth. With your fingers, apply light pressure to check for lumps near the surface and firm pressure to explore deeper inside.
Squeeze each nipple gently to see if there’s any discharge. Also look for changes in the position or shape of the nipple(s).
If there’s any unusual thickness, lump or discharge, consult a doctor immediately. Don’t panic, all lumps needn’t be cancer.
Mammograms are done if there’s a lump detected during self/ medical examination or as a part of wellness check-ups
Mammograms can detect lumps 2 years before they can be felt. Lumps that are cancerous and non-cancerous look different and mammograms can detect these.
Diagnosis Of Breast Cancer
The only way to confirm breast cancer is to do a surgical biopsy/ needle aspiration to collect and test tissue for cancer cells.
What If It’s Cancer?
If the lump is found to be cancerous, your doctor will need to know what type of cancer it is and which stage/ how advanced it is.
Checking the lymph nodes can tell if the disease has spread.
A set of other tests may be conducted to decide the treatment course with the best possible outcomes.
What Are the Stages Of Breast Cancer?
The stage of the cancer can be ascertained at the time of diagnosis through physical examinations, biopsies, and radiological investigations blood tests.
A Pathological investigation of the breast tissue and lymph nodes can help understand more about the cancer.
Based on these results, the doctor will assign certain letters and numbers to every stage of the breast cancer, which helps decide the course of treatment.
Stage 0: Early detection. The cancer originated in the breast ducts or milk glands and has stayed there.
Stage I: Starting with this stage, the cancer can be called invasive, which means it has begun attacking healthy tissue.
Stage 1A: The cancer has spread into the fatty breast tissue.
Stage IB: Some cancer cells (tiny amounts) have been found in the lymph nodes.
Stage II: The cancer has grown and/ or spread.
Stage IIA: Tumor in the breast is still small (if there’s one at all). There may be no cancer in the lymph nodes yet or may have spread to three nodes.
Stage IIB: The tumour is the size of a walnut or lime. It may or may not be in any of the lymph nodes.
Stage III: The cancer has advanced, but has not spread to the bones or organs.
Stage IIIA: The cancer has spread to up to nine lymph nodes that form a chain from the underarm to the collarbone. It might even have spread to the lymph nodes inside the breast.
Stage IIIB: The tumour has grown into the chest wall/ skin around the breast, even if it hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage IIIC: The cancer has spread to ten or more lymph nodes, or to below the collarbone. It is also termed IIIC if the lymph nodes outside the breast area get affected but those inside the breast are enlarged/ cancerous.
Stage IV: Breast cancer cells have spread from the breast and lymph nodes to the surrounding areas including the bones, liver, lungs, and brain. This stage is called “metastatic”, which means it has spread beyond the region where it was first detected.
The T-N- M Of Breast Cancer
“T” stands for tumour, or the lump of cancer found in the breast itself.
“N” stands for nodes, as in lymph nodes
“M” stands for metastasis.
How Is Breast Cancer Treated?
The treatment plan of breast cancer will depend upon the stage of the disease. It requires a multidisciplinary team of doctors to carry out the treatment and ensure the best possible outcomes. The treatment modes include:
Lumpectomy (breast-conserving surgery)
Mastectomy (breast removal)
Neoadjuvant therapy (hormonal therapy & Chemotherapy before surgery)
Adjuvant therapy (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy and/or hormonal therapy)
Always remember, breast cancer does NOT spell doom and can be cured effectively if diagnosed in the early stages. You are responsible for your wellbeing, so never ignore symptoms or shy away from breast examinations. It’s for your own good.