Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women worldwide, and the number of cases is on the rise every year. It is a condition which is mostly identified as overgrowth of cells on the breasts. It is estimated that around 16% among the women cancer patients suffer from breast cancer while 20% of the cancer related deaths are caused by this. The rate of deaths due to breast cancer is alarmingly higher than due to cervical or uterine cancer. Around 1,55,000 cases of breast cancer have been reported in 2015 alone. Among these, 76,000 had succumbed to it.
A number of factors including life style, age, weight and hereditary aspects may be the reason for breast cancer. Besides, late pregnancies, early menstruation, late meno pause, smoking and alcohol consumption increases the chances of breast cancer in women.
An unusual lump or thickness that is felt on the breast is the most common symptom. In 80% cases, this is the symptom that helps diagnose breast cancer. However, not all lumps seen on the breasts are cancerous. Some of them may be benign. Consult a doctor if you feel thickness, change in size, pigmentation, scars or changes in the skin texture. Do not ignore the lumps on the breast and in the under arm area, shrinking skin, scaling, crusting, flaking, parching or change in the colour of the skin on your breast. Breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body. So, it is important to keep an eye on these symptoms.
If diagnosed, breast cancer can be treated with simple medications. However, late diagnosis increases the chance of the cancer cells spreading to others parts of the body, making treatment extremely difficult. Usually, after checking for any lumps in the breast area and conducting a mammogram, the doctor might prescribe a biopsy test if required. If the biopsy test is positive, then the treatment begins according to the stage of the disease.
Doctors recommend the treatment depending upon the intensity of the disease or how far it has spread. It involves surgeries, chemotherapies and radiations. The surgery would be effective only if cancer is in the first stage.
Breast conservation surgeries that remove the cancer cells while retaining as much breast as possible are done. Only the lump or the cancer cells are removed in this surgery. Mastectomy is a surgery to remove all the breast tissues from a breast as a way to treat or prevent breast cancer. Radiotherapy has made greater strides in the breast cancer treatment. This is done after the surgery to remove the remaining cancer cells. Radiotherapy is essential for those who have done breast conservation surgery and mastectomy as well. Many get worried hearing the word radiation. However, it is important to understand that modern medical science has gone a long way making treatments more effective and easy.
Chemotherapy is done using cancer killing medicines. These medicines destroy the cancer cells in the body. Two or three different medicines are usually used in chemotherapy. This form of treatment is prescribed in all stages of breast cancer.
Doctors suggest doing a breast cancer screening for even a healthy woman is always good. If diagnosed earlier, breast cancer can be treated and cured. X-ray, mammogram and ultra sounds are the most common tests conducted to diagnose breast cancer. Women who are above fifty years of age should strictly undergo screening tests.
A healthy life style can definitely prevent breast cancer. However, those with hereditary factors should do occasional screening tests. Researchers say that breast cancer can be prevented to a certain extent by controlling the body weight, being active, through breast feeding and following a healthy diet and life style.
(The author is a consultant radiation oncologist at the Parumala St. Gregorious Medical Mission Hospital, Thiruvalla, Kerala)