Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of anomalous cells anywhere in the body. The growth of these uncharacteristic cells are termed as cancer which can penetrate into the normal body tissues and form lumps of malignant cells or masses of tissue called tumours. Cancer can start developing almost anywhere in the human body and when these cells grow old or damaged, they die and new cells take their place.
Breast cancer is one of the most belligerent type of cancer among women leading to death. Age is not a matter for a breast cancer, however, the risk doubles each decade after menopause later the surge slackens. Survival rates of breast cancer have now improved worldwide, because of the advanced medical facilities and diagnosis at an early stage. Cancerous lumps are of irregular shape and size; they feel firm or solid. In rare cases a painful breast lump in few women turns out to be cancerous.
Breast cancer usually attacks the left breast more easily compared to the right. Melanoma (a type of skin cancer) affects roughly 5% more to the left side of the body.
Every woman should be aware of the symptoms, as after puberty a woman breast consists of connective tissues, fats, thousands of lobules and ting glands that helps in producing milk for breast feeding. Milk is carried to the nipple through tiny cells or ducts. The cell multiplies rapidly at times resulting in breast cancer. In many women it usually begins with the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply them with milk. From here it gradually starts spreading to other parts of the human body.
Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation like orange peel or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain.
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, dry and scaly, or nipple thickening or breast skin.
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
Life events also play a major role among women in the development of breast cancer, including early menarche, delayed mother-hood after the age 30, infertility and also late menopause after age 55. All these factors intensify the woman’s lifetime exposure to oestrogen and progesterone leading to a high risk of breast cancer.
When younger women are diagnosed with breast cancer it is not only alarming but also emotionally traumatic for the patients. These young women are either single or have young children. It thus makes it emotionally difficult for them to ‘break the news’ to their family and friends. In developing countries due to increase in life expectancy, increased urbanization and adoption of western lifestyles Breast cancer cases have increased. The lack of awareness has been a threat to late detection of breast cancer.
Warning Signs of Breast Cancer:
- Nipple retraction: When a nipple appears to turn inwards, it is a key sign of breast cancer which most women aren’t aware of. It is caused due to the tumour which is located in the centre of the breast, which shortens and pulls in the nipple involving the milk ducts.
- A swollen lymph node under your arm: Many people notice a lump in the armpit, but not around the breast, they ignore it thinking it’s non-cancerous. But it can be a sign of cancer which has spread to the lymph nodes, and at times it is spotted even before it appears on the breast.
- Changes in breast sign: If there is a swelling or shrinking found in any one of the breast, it is something to noted.
- Thickening of the nipple: Any changes in the skin surrounding the nipple area, it could be either be thickening, puckering, dimpling or itching of the nipple which should never be ignored.
- Presence of rashes: If rashes are found across both the breast, it shouldn’t be brushed away thinking it’s an allergy. Because it could also be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
How to reduce your risk of Breast Cancer?
- Weight control: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential goal for everyone, especially if obesity occurs after menopause later in life.
- Breast-feed: Breast-feeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.
- Keeping you fit: Be physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer. Regular exercise can also go a long way in improving your body’s metabolism and controlling weight.
- Healthy diet: Diet plays a very small but measurable role in breast cancer prevention. Fruits, vegetables, and grains may help to reduce the risk. Embrace high diet vegetables and fruit and completely cut sugared drinks, refined carbohydrates and fatty foods. Fish or chicken breast are good as they are lean protein.
- Avoid alcohol: While moderate drinking can be good for the heart in older adults, even low levels of intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. However, if you choose to drink alcohol including beer, wine or liquor try to limit yourself to no more than one - two drink/week.
- Screening of Breast Cancer: Ultrasound/ X-ray mammogram of breasts are recommended for women above age 40 to detect cancer when it is still in early stage and not yet rest by examinations at breast.
Dr. Basawantrao Malipatil (Consultant - Medical Oncology)
Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield