Breast Cancer refers to the type of cancer that is characterized by the uncontrolled progression of abnormal cells located in the tissues of the breast. It is the second prevalent form of cancer affecting women with an incidence rate of one in every eight women.
Breast cancer comes in several form, the more common types are ductal carcinoma, which makes up approximately eighty five to ninety percent of breast cancers, and lobular carcinoma, found in about eight percent of breast cancer patients. Ductal carcinoma starts from the ducts that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple. When the cancer starts at the milk producing lobules, it is called lobular carcinoma.
There has yet to be a scientific explanation on how breast cells become abnormal and ultimately malignant. However, breast cancer is attributed to a combination of risk factors that a woman may inherit or acquire.
Some breast cancer risk factors are genetic in nature. It is widely accepted that women who have one or more relatives afflicted with breast cancer have a higher risk of having breast cancer incidence themselves. Studies show that some families have defects in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene and this account to about ten percent of breast cancer cases.
Hormonal risk factors are also involved in the formation of breast cancer. The female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, assists in the development and division of breast cancer cells. Women may increase their risk for breast cancer if they had hormonal replacement therapy during their menopausal stages.
Age and gender plays a key role in the development of cancerous cells in the breast. Women are thought to have a hundred percent likelihood of growing breast cancer than men especially those who area above the age of fifty.
A person’s overall health condition also factors in as a risk. Women who are less active and with less exercise have higher cancer development rate than those who have physically active. It is also well established that alcohol consumption and weight gain contributes to the incidence certain illnesses, including breast cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Here are some signs that a woman may have breast cancer. 1. A painless lump growing in the breast area or armpit. 2. Unusual change in size and shape of the breast. 3. The nipple may produce a pus-like or clear discharge. 4. The color and texture of the skin, particularly the areola.
Women should immediately report occurrence of one or a combination of these symptoms to their physician so that early detection can be accomplished. The stage in which breast cancer is diagnosed largely identifies the treatment method needed and the survival rate that a patient may expect. For those who have detected the cancer growth at very early stages, the five year survival rate goes to as high as a hundred percent.
The following procedures are done in order to establish the breast cancer occurrence and identify the stage on which the cancer was diagnosed.
1. Physical Examination – your physician will examine your breast through visual inspection and palpation. In visual inspection, changes in the contour and texture of the breast will be noted. Appearance of sores, dimpling, nipple discharge, ulcers, nipple inversion and puckering may signify breast cancer occurrence. Your doctor will also use the pads of the finger to palpate the breast area for unusual bumps. Take note that benign tumors have a different feel from cancerous ones.
2. Mammography – is an important procedure that shows the development of cancerous tumors before they are physically or visually noticeable. This is done by using a high energy x-ray of the breast to check for abnormal breast tissue density and calcium deposits. Advancements in mammography have drastically reduced the fatality rate of breast cancer as the malignancy is often found using mammography at stages where it is highly curable.
3. Ultrasonography – The use of high frequency sound wave helps in identifying the state of breast lump. If a lump is solid, there is a great likelihood that it is cancer as opposed fluid-filled tumors which are usually non-cancerous.
4. Breast cancer biopsy – when an abnormal growth on a woman’s breast is detected, a biopsy is done to extract samples of its tissue. These samples examined in a laboratory to look for the presence of cancerous cells. Biopsies are done in three different ways. Fine needle aspiration uses a fine needle to withdraw cell samples from the suspected are. Surgical biopsy remove part or the entire suspected area, while large core biopsy uses a large core biopsy uses large needle to remove the core of the suspicious area.
After the detection of cancer, your physician will determine the phase of development of the cancer in order to establish the necessary treatment method. This is called staging and cancers are classified into five stages.
1. Stage Zero – also called carcinoma in situ is the earliest stage of the cancer. The cancer is still contained in the area where it originated and is not yet invasive. The neighboring lymph nodes and other organs are still free from cancer cells.
2. Stage One – this is a stage wherein the cancer solidifies but is still smaller than two centimeters and the cancer cells have not yet reached other tissues and organs.
3. Stage Two – in this stage, the cancer has not yet affected the lymph nodes in the underarm its size is about two to three centimeters.
4. Stage Three – is a stage where the cancer is larger than five centimeters and has already reached the lymph nodes in the underarm or other areas around the breast.
5. Stage Four – is when the cancer becomes metastatic or has spread to other organs of the body including the chest cavity, bones, lungs and liver. The cancer is often untreatable at this stage and the main goal of the treatment is to prolong the patient’s life expectancy.
Treatment for breast cancer is generally grouped into two methods.
1. Local treatment – these are treatments that remove or kill abnormal cells in a particular area. Surgery and Radiation therapy are two examples of this kind of treatment
2. Systematic treatment – are used for the control and elimination of cancer cells in the body. Examples of this treatment are chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.
Depending on the severity and location of the cancer growth and overall health condition of the patient, one or a combination of these treatments may be applied.
The most common treatment for cancer, surgical procedures may be done in two ways, sparing surgery and mastectomy. Breast sparing surgery or lumpectomy, removes the cancerous lumps but not the entire breast. In addition, a full lymph node dissection or a sentinel node dissection may be done to check whether the cancer has spread to adjacent areas.
Mastectomy involves the removal of the entire breast and is usually done when the tumor has becomes too large or has spread to the skin of the breast. A full lymph or sentinel lymph node dissection may also be performed alongside mastectomy.
In radiation therapy – a machine emitting high energy x-rays is used to radiate and damage the tumor and to stop the cells from growing. Radiation is often used after sparring surgery in order to eliminate abnormal cells and fight off metastasis and recurrence.
Surgery and radiation may not completely eliminate cancer cells. To kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy or hormonal therapy may be used. Chemotherapy involves the use of cancer cell killing drugs which may be administered intravenously or orally. Drugs such as adriamycin, cytoxan, paclitaxel or docetaxel are some samples of drugs used in chemotherapy.
Hormonal therapy is done in women with hormone positive receptor cancers. These forms of breast cancers rely on the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, for its nutrient and development. Drugs such as Tamixofen, Arimidex, Aromasin and Femara are samples of drugs used in hormone therapy.