Breast cancer is an invasive type of cancer common to women. It is one of the leading fatal cancers among women, second to lung cancer. Fortunately, advances in testing and treatment for breast cancer have significantly improved over the last two decades. The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that in the US, there are more than three million breast cancer survivors and that the likelihood of dying of the disease is about one in 38 (or about 2.6%).
The ACS also reports that there have been decreasing breast cancer death rates since 1989, most likely due to advances in its treatment. Improved screening behavior and awareness of its symptoms are critical in reducing the risk of the disease.
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Symptoms of the Disease
One of the earliest breast cancer symptoms typically manifests as a lump or area of thickened tissue in the breast or around the armpit area. Other symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Constant pain around the areas of the breast or armpits that is not alleviated even with the progression of menstrual period cycles
- Skin redness around the breast area
- The appearance of “pits” on the skin, similar to the texture of the orange peel
- Rashes on or around the nipples
- Inverted or sunken nipple
- Nipple discharge (sometimes with blood)
- Noticeable change in breast shape or size
- Skin scaling, flaking or peeling around the breast and nipple regions
In most cases, a lump on the breast does not indicate cancer. However, once a lump on the breast is detected, it is always wise to consult a doctor.
Stages of the Disease
A doctor diagnoses the stage of breast cancer according to the tumor size and whether it has spread to the body’s lymph nodes or to other parts.
Below are the descriptions of the four main stages of breast cancer:
- Stage 0: The cancer cells are still limited to ducts, and cells have not encroached on surrounding tissues. It is also referred to as DCIS or ductal carcinoma in situ.
- Stage 1: The cancerous tumor measures about two centimeters in width. The lymph nodes are clear of cancer cells. If cancerous cells are detected, they will be in minute groups.
- Stage 2: In this stage, the tumor is as big as two centimeters in width, and cancer cells are in the early stages of spreading to the surrounding nodes. That, or the tumor has grown to between two and five centimeters, but cells have not begun spreading to surrounding nodes.
- Stage 3: The tumor, at this stage, is around five centimeters in width, and cells have reached several lymph nodes. That, or the tumor is upwards of five centimeters in size and cells have spread to only a few surrounding nodes.
- Stage 4: Cancerous cells are detected in other organs, often in the liver, lungs, brain, or bones.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
The actual cause of the disease is still unknown, but a few risk factors make the condition more likely to occur. What’s important to note is that some risk factors can actually be prevented.
- A history of breast cancer or breast lumps
- Dense breast tissue
- Estrogen exposure and breastfeeding
- Body weight
- Alcohol consumption
- Radiation exposure
- Hormone treatments
The specific treatment for breast cancer will be determined by several factors, such as the type and stage of cancer, the patient’s sensitivity to hormones, age, health, and preferences.
The primary treatment options for breast cancer are:
Radiation therapy: A patient diagnosed with breast cancer may be prescribed radiation therapy a few weeks after undergoing the necessary surgery. This type of therapy entails subjecting the tumor to measured radiation doses to eradicate any residual cancer cells.
Lumpectomy: The removal of the tumor and a small portion of surrounding healthy tissue prevent the further spread of cancer.
Mastectomy: This treatment involves the removal of lobules, fatty tissue, ducts, nipple, and a portion of surrounding skin.
Reconstruction: After a mastectomy, breast reconstruction may be needed to restore the breast’s natural shape or form. This is to aid the patient in coping with the psychological effects of having her breast removed. Artificial implants are medical prostheses used for the reconstruction of the breasts.
Hormone therapy: Targeted drugs are those that are formulated to address specific types of breast cancer. Hormone-blocking therapy prevents the recurrence of hormone-sensitive breast cancers.
Chemotherapy: Cytotoxic chemotherapy may be prescribed to kill off the cancer cells, especially if the risk of recurrence or spread is high. Sometimes, chemotherapy may be required before surgery to shrink the tumor, which makes its removal easier.
The prognosis for breast cancer depends on its staging. The ACS states that a breast cancer patient has a 99% chance of survival if treatment is received at Stage 0 or 1. Regular screening and medical checks are necessary for women who have the risk factors. Early detection and immediate treatment increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Meta title: Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment
meta desc: According to research, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women. Improve your awareness of this common cancer type by learning its symptoms, stages, risk factors, and treatment.