Breast cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the tissues of the breasts. It is caused by the growth of abnormal cells in the tissues. The tumors which are cancerous, but have not spread to other parts of the body are called “in-situ’. It’s almost always treatable. However, in invasive cancer, the cancerous tumors spread to other parts of the body.
The major risk factors for breast cancer are:
1. Age– The risk increases with age.
2. The two inherited genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
3. Personal factors– Starting periods before the age 12, going through menopause after 55, etc.
4. Other– Obesity, hormone replacement theory, taking birth control pills etc.
Breast Cancer Causes
The actual factors causing cancer are not yet known. It is very difficult to say who may or may not have a cancerous growth in their body. However, cancer is caused by the damage of the cell’s DNA. Normal cells in the breasts become cancerous because of the mutations in them. About 10% of breast cancer is hereditary. In most cases, the mutated gene is passed on from the parent to the offspring.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Any of the following changes can indicate a chance of breast cancer.
- Change in shape of one of the breasts.
- Change in breast size.
- One of the veins stands out.
- Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin.
- Change in the shape of the nipple, redness, crusting or blood stained discharge from it.
- If the nipple turns in or changes in direction.
- Lumps in the breast.
- Bumpy areas that seem different from the other tissues.
- Swelling or lump in the armpit or along the collarbone.
Breast Cancer Treatment
The behavior of cancer affects the treatment plan. Treatments for breast cancer are personalized and depend on factors like:
- Stage of the tumor.
- The tumor’s subtype.
- Genomic markers such as Oncotype DX™ and Mammaprint™.
- Patient’s age.
- Patient’s menopausal status.
- Presence of BRCA1 and BRCA2
For early stage invasive cancer, surgery is recommended. To make sure the entire tumor is removed, doctors may also remove a small area of the healthy tissues around the tumor.
For larger cancer, systemic treatment with chemotherapy and hormonal treatment is done before surgery. This treatment is called neoadjuvant therapy. The benefits are:
- Easier surgery.
- Certain treatments work well for cancer.
- Any new treatment can also be tried through the clinical trial.
When the cancer is inoperable, other treatments like chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy and/or hormonal therapy may be given to shrink cancer.