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Breast Cancer – symptoms, prevention, and treatment

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women in India. Breast cancer occurs in both sex but in male it accounts for less than 1% of all cases of breast cancer. It is treatable if diagnosed early. Localized cancer can generally be treated before it spreads outside the breast. But once the cancer begins to spread, treatment becomes more complicated. Early detection, better approach to treatment and better understanding of the disease has led to increased survival rates and decreased death rate.

Breast cancer usually begins either in your glands that make milk known as lobular carcinoma or the ducts that carry it to the nipple called ductal carcinoma. It can grow larger in your breast and spread to nearby lymph nodes or through your bloodstream to other organs.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is growth of a lump which is a painless, hard mass that has irregular edges. They can even be painful. It is always important to have breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by a specialist.

Other symptoms to watch out are:

Lump or thickening of breast

Change in size shape or appearance of breast

Changes to the skin, indrawing of nipple or ulceration of skin

Redness or roughness of skin over breast

Nipple discharge that can be bloody or clear

These changes may be noticed while performing monthly breast self-exams. By performing breast self-exams, you will become familiar with the normal monthly changes in your breasts.

Risk factors include:

Increasing age

Personal history of breast cancer

Personal history of breast condition like LCIS or Atypical hyperplasia

Family history

Inherited genes

Radiation exposure


Early menarche

Age at first childbirth – childbirth after 30yrs have increased risk breast cancer

Post-menopausal hormone therapy

Alcohol consumption

There is no definite way to prevent breast cancer. But there are things that can help in lowering the risk such as changing risk factors that can be controlled by making certain changes in daily life to help reduce risk of breast cancer

Breast self-examination for breast awareness – women may become familiar with their breast. If there is new change, lump or unusual sign doctor consultation should be taken promptly.

Clinical breast examination

Breast screening by mammography in women above 50yrs

Limitation of alcohol consumption

Daily exercise of at least 30 mins

Limit use of post-menopausal hormone therapy – risk and benefit should be discussed with doctor in women who experience bothersome sign and symptoms of menopause.

BMI – maintain a healthy weight, reduction in calorie intake and increase in exercise reduces the risk

Healthy diet – extra virgin olive oil and mixed nuts Mediterranean diet like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes reduce the risk of breast cancer

Breast cancer is diagnosed during a physical exam, by a self-examining the breasts, mammography, ultrasound testing, and biopsy. Women should begin annual breast screening between 40-44 years of age. Women aged 45 and older should have a screening mammogram every year.

Treatment depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, person’s sensitivity to hormones, age, overall health of the individual and other medical conditions. Treatment generally follows within a few weeks after the diagnosis. Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are best achieved by a team of experts. The specialist needs to evaluate the advantages and limitations of each type of treatment for each patient to develop the best approach.

Chemotherapy, Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, Mastectomy, Conservative breast cancer surgery, Adjuvant systemic therapy and Hormone therapy are certain options used to treat breast cancer.

A variety of things influence breast cancer risk including family history and other known risk factors. Screening can help catch it early and the earlier it’s diagnosed, the more treatable it is. The longer it takes to diagnose a breast cancer, the more difficult treatment becomes.

BY: Dr. Amitesh Anand, Surgical Oncologist, HCG Abdur Razzaque Ansari Cancer Hospital Ranchi

About Mahender Bansal

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