Breast Cancer 101

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October is 'breast cancer awareness' month. If you’re a woman, or know a woman, you should read this. Breast cancer is, after all, the most commonly found cancer amongst women around the world.

Breast Cancer 101

Quick facts about breast cancer

• The term breast cancer refers to a malignant tumour found in the breast cells.

• There are two main types of breast cancers:
Ductal carcinoma – Most breast cancers are of this type, wherein the cancer starts in the tubes or ducts that move milk from the breast to the nipple.
Lobular carcinoma – This type of breast cancer starts in the milk producing parts of the breast, also called lobules.

• This disease may not have any symptoms at its onset.

• Only 10-15% breast cancers are hereditary. While the causes of breast are largely unknown, factors like age, gender (it occurs mostly in females), hormones, alcohol use and exposure to radiation are known to play a part.

Symptoms of breast cancer

A lump or a mass is usually the first sign of cancer. Other indications may include changes in breast size or shape, skin dimpling, nipple inversion, or spontaneous single-nipple discharge. Breast cancer may also present itself as a metastatic disease, that is, cancer that has spread beyond the original organ.

Some types of breast cancer are sensitive to hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which makes it possible to treat them by blocking the effects of these hormones in the targeted tissues. Estrogen and progesterone receptor positive tumors have better prognosis and require less aggressive treatment than hormone negative cancers.

Stages of breast cancer

Like other forms of cancer, breast cancer too has several stages:

At stage 0, the cancer is not yet malignant and has not yet moved from its location. Also referred to as “in situ” (in place), this stage is a topic of disagreement amongst many experts as some believe that it does not even really qualify as cancer.

Stages 1 to 3 fall under the early cancer stage and have a good prognosis.

At stage 4, breast cancer comes under the advanced stage. At this point, the cancer may have moved into the metastatic stage, i.e. it may have spread to other parts of the body.

Besides the two commonly found types, there are other rarer kinds of breast cancers as well. Inflammatory breast cancer is one where an inflammation of the tissue occurs. Another rare cancer, found only amongst 1% of all breast cancer patients, is occult breast cancer.

Paget’s disease is also an uncommon form of cancer that begins from the ducts and spreads to the skin of the breasts. Medullary carcinoma is an invasive form of cancer that forms a distant boundary between the tumour and the normal skin.

Beating breast cancer

The key to the fight against breast cancer lies in periodic exams. Women over the age of 20 must perform breast self-examinations from time to time to check for abnormalities. Mammograms are reccomended once in three years for women over 30 and more frequently for women over 40. Remember, catching it an early stage makes it more possible to cure breast cancer. So be responsible for your health and get tested regularly.

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