Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. The tumor is malignant (cancer) if the cells can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. Breast cancer stage is usually expressed as a number on a scale of 0 through IV — with stage 0 describing non-invasive cancers that remain within their original location and stage IV describing invasive cancers that have spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. And according to statistics from the American Cancer Society (ACS), nearly 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in the United States in 2015. Invasive breast cancer is cancer that has spread from the ducts or glands to other parts of the breast. More than 40,000 women were expected to die from the disease.

Self-diagnosis – A breast self-exam is a screening technique you can do at home to check for breast lumps. A breast self-exam can help screen for: tumors, cysts and other abnormalities in the breasts.

How does Breast Cancer affect your body?

Breast cancer invades locally and spreads through the regional lymph nodes, bloodstream, or both. Metastatic breast cancer may affect almost any organ in the body—most commonly, lungs, liver, bone, brain, and skin.

Most skin metastases occur near the site of breast surgery; scalp metastases are also common. Metastatic breast cancer frequently appears years or decades after initial diagnosis and treatment.

What are the Causes of Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is caused by a genetic mutation in the DNA of breast cancer cells. How or why this damage occurs isn’t entirely understood. Some mutations may develop randomly over time, while others are inherited or may be the result of environmental exposures or lifestyle factors.

What are the Risk Factors of Breast Cancer?

Common risk factors include –

  • Age and gender – If you are a woman and you’re getting older, you may be at risk of developing breast cancer. The risk begins to climb after age 40 and is highest for women in their 70s.
  • Family history – Having a close blood relative with breast cancer increases your risk of developing the disease. A woman’s breast cancer risk is almost double if she has a mom, sister, or daughter with breast cancer and about triple if she has two or more first-degree relatives with breast cancer.
  • A breast cancer gene mutation – Up to 10% of all breast cancers are thought to be inherited, and many of these cases are due to defects in one or more genes, especially the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. (Scientists are studying several other gene mutations as well.) In the U.S., BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are more common in Jewish women of Eastern European descent. Having these defective genes doesn’t mean you will get breast cancer, but the risk is greater: A woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer with a BRCA1 gene mutation, for example, may be more like 55% to 65% compared to the average 12%.
  • Breast changes and conditions – Women with dense breasts or with a personal history of breast lumps, a previous breast cancer, or certain non-cancerous breast conditions are at greater risk of developing breast cancer than women who do not have these conditions.
  • Race/ethnicity – White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than Asian, Hispanic, and African American women. But African American women are more likely to develop more aggressive breast cancer at a younger age and both African American and Hispanic women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.
  • Hormones – Women with early menstrual periods (starting before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55) are at greater risk of getting breast cancer. Scientists think their longer exposure to the female hormone estrogen may be a factor, because estrogen stimulates growth of the cells of the breast. Likewise, use of hormone therapy after menopause appears to boost the risk of breast cancer. Oral birth control pills have been linked to a small increase in breast cancer risk compared with women who never used hormonal contraception.
  • Weight –  Women who are overweight or obese after menopause are more likely to get breast cancer. The exact reason why isn’t clear, but it may be due to higher levels of estrogen produced by fat cells after menopause. Being overweight also boosts blood levels of insulin, which may affect breast cancer risk.
  • Alcohol consumption – Studies suggest women who drink two or more alcoholic beverages a day are 1 1/2 times more likely than non-drinkers to develop breast cancer. The risk rises with greater alcohol intake, and alcohol is known to increase the risk of other cancers too.
  • Radiation exposure – A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer may be higher than normal if she had chest radiation for another disease as a child or young adult.
  • Pregnancy history – Having no children or having a first child after age 30 may increase your risk of breast cancer.

What are the symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Symptoms that are observed in the breast area are –

  • Swelling of all or part of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast pain
  • Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • A nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • A lump in the underarm area

How is Breast Cancer diagnosed?

  • Diagnostic mammogram – It involves more X-rays than a screening mammogram and can offer a more detailed view of the area of concern.
  • A breast MRI or a breast ultrasound, may be ordered to gather additional diagnostic information.
  • Biopsy – To confirm a cancer diagnosis, you will need a biopsy to extract cells or tissue from the area of the breast that is causing concern. A fine needle may be used to remove cells or tissue, or you may undergo a surgical procedure to remove a piece of breast tissue.

How to Prevent & Control Breast Cancer?

  • Limit your alcohol intake – The more you drink, the higher your risk of breast cancer.
  • Watch your weight – Being overweight or obese boosts your breast cancer risk.
  • Exercise – Women who work out regularly have a lower risk of breast cancer than less active women.
  • Consider breastfeeding your baby – Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast cancer than moms who do not breastfeed their children.
  • Reduce your hormone intake – Hormone therapy users are at higher risk for breast cancer. If you’re taking hormones to relieve menopausal symptoms, talk to your doctor about taking the lowest dose that works for you for the shortest time.

Treatment of Breast Cancer Allopathic Treatment

Surgery – Several types of surgery may be used to remove breast cancer, including:

Lumpectomy – This procedure removes only the suspicious or cancerous spot, leaving most surrounding tissue in place.

Mastectomy – In this procedure, a surgeon removes an entire breast. In a double mastectomy, both breasts are removed.

Sentinel node biopsy – This surgery removes some of the lymph nodes that receive drainage from the tumor. These lymph nodes will be tested. If they don’t have cancer, you may not need additional lymph-removing surgery.

Axillary lymph node dissection – If lymph nodes removed during a sentinel node biopsy test positive, your doctor may perform this procedure to remove additional lymph nodes.

Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy – Even though breast cancer may be present in only one breast, some women elect to have a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. This surgery removes your healthy breast to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer again.

Radiation therapy – With radiation therapy, high-powered beams of radiation are used to target and kill cancer cells. Most radiation treatments use external beam radiation. This technique uses a large machine on the outside of the body. Advances in cancer treatment have also enabled doctors to irradiate cancer from inside the body. This type of radiation treatment is called brachytherapy. To conduct brachytherapy, surgeons place radioactive seeds, or pellets, inside the body near the tumor site. The seeds stay there for a short period of time and work to reduce cancer cells.

Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is a drug treatment used to destroy cancer cells. Some people may undergo chemotherapy on its own, but this type of treatment is often used along with other treatments, especially surgery. In some cases, doctors prefer to give patients chemotherapy before surgery. The hope is that the treatment will shrink the tumor, and then the surgery will not need to be as invasive. Chemotherapy has many unwanted side effects, so discuss your concerns with your doctor before starting treatment.

Hormone therapy – If your type of breast cancer is sensitive to hormones, your doctor may start you on hormone therapy. Estrogen and progesterone, two female hormones, can stimulate the growth of breast cancer tumors. Hormone therapy works by blocking your body’s production of these hormones. This action can help slow and possibly stop the growth of your cancer.

Medications – Certain medications are designed to attack specific abnormalities or mutations within cancer cells. For example, Herceptin (trastuzumab) can block your body’s production of the HER2 protein. HER2 helps breast cancer cells grow, so taking a medication to slow the production of this protein may help slow cancer growth.

Treatment of Breast Cancer Homoeopathic Treatment

For treating breast cancer,  a combinarion of three homeopathic medicines are prescribed :

  • Phytolacca 200C
  • Thuja 30C
  • Carcinosin 30c

Breast Cancer – Lifestyle Tips

Women who are obese have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting more exercise could help you lose weight and lower your risk.

Drinking too much alcohol also increases your risk. This is true of having two or more drinks per day, and of binge drinking. However, a recent study found that even one drink per day increases your risk of breast cancer. If you drink alcohol, talk to your doctor about what amount they recommend for you.

What are Recommended Exercises for Person with Breast Cancer?

The following exercises are said to be beneficial :

Spider Walk – Stand facing wall, about 8 inches away. Place fingertips of affected side of body on wall at hip level, palm facing down. Walk fingers up wall, climbing as high as you can. Hold hand in place for about 15 seconds. Relax arm; return to start. Do 5 reps; repeat with other arm.

Pendulum – Bend forward at waist and let affected arm hang toward floor. Make small circles with hand and let momentum move arm around effortlessly. Do 10 circles clockwise and 10 counterclockwise. Repeat with other arm.

Chest Stretch – Stand in a door frame. Press forearm of affected arm against frame, elbow at chest height. Gently lean forward until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to start. Do 5 reps. Repeat with other arm.

Breast Cancer & Pregnancy – Things to know

Breast cancer during pregnancy is rare. Research shows that breast cancer is reported in 1 in every 3,000 pregnancies. Most women are between 32 and 38 years old at diagnosis. Most are able to carry on with their pregnancy.

Rarely, some women may need to think about whether to end the pregnancy (termination). Your doctor will discuss your options but they may recommend it if you:

  • need chemotherapy
  • are less than 14 weeks pregnant

Even then, it might be possible to delay your chemotherapy treatment until you are more than 14 weeks pregnant. Deciding to end your pregnancy is a very difficult decision and only you can make it.

It can help to discuss your options with your family, breast care nurse, cancer specialist and your obstetrician. There isn’t any good research evidence to show that being pregnant makes a cancer grow more quickly.

Common Complications Related to Breast Cancer

Breast cancer surgery, though considered safe, may give rise to a number of complications.

Psychological complications include:

  • fear
  • anxiety
  • loss of sleep
  • loss of sexual interest
  • depression due to possible physical changes resulting from the intensive treatments

Secondary physical complications include :

  • inflamed lung tissue
  • heart damage
  • secondary cancers

Some complications that may occur after the surgery include:

  • hematoma or buildup of blood under your skin
  • seroma or buildup of fluid on the site of the surgery
  • lymphedema or swelling of the arm on the side of the surgery
  • reactions to the anesthesia

Chemotherapy is used to treat various stages of breast cancer. It may give rise to complications, such as:

  • low immunity 7-14 days after undergoing chemotherapy and thus prone to infections
  • hair loss and thinning due to chemotherapy
  • nausea and vomiting episodes after chemotherapy
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • dental and mouth problems, such as sore gums, mouth ulcers
  • dry skin and brittle  nails
  • constant exhaustion
  • infertility
  • early menopause
  • menopausal symptoms (hot flashes and vaginal symptoms)

Other FAQs about Breast Cancer

What is the most common sign of breast cancer?

The most common symptoms are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge. The eight warning signs of breast cancer are Lump, hard knot or thickening, swelling, warmth, redness or darkening.

What is the survival rate for stage 0 breast cancer?

Many stage 0 breast cancers do not require treatment. When they do, the approach is generally very successful. The five-year survival rate for stage 0 breast cancer is 93 percent. This means that almost all women diagnosed with stage 0 disease will live for at least five years after being diagnosed.

How long does it take breast cancer to spread?

With most breast cancers, each division takes one to two months, so by the time you can feel a cancerous lump, cancer has been in your body for two to five years.

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