Breast Cancer: Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the breast cells, usually in the lobules (glands that produce milk) or in the ducts (pathways that carry milk to the nipple) of the breast. It can also occur in the fat or the fibrous tissue in the breast.

Breast cancer can also be classified according to the regions it has spread to. Invasive cancer has spread from the original point to other parts of the breast, while non-invasive cancer has not invaded the surrounding breast tissue. Based on this, the most common types of cancer are:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma

Causes of breast cancer

The risk factors for breast cancer include being female, increasing age, personal or family history of breast cancer, inherited genes, having an early period or a late menopause, having children late or not having children at all, alcohol consumption, etc. Having some of these characteristics does not ensure that you’ll get breast cancer. Conversely, not having these risk factors does not mean you will not develop breast cancer.

Symptoms of breast cancer

Some of the signs of breast cancer are:

  • A breast lump or tissue thickening that feels different from the rest of the tissue
  • Pain in the breast
  • Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk
  • Bloody discharge from the nipple
  • Inverted nipple
  • Sudden, unexplained change in breast shape or size
  • Swelling in the breast
  • Changes in the appearance of the breast skin
  • Red skin all over the breast
  • Peeling, scaling, or flaking of the areola or breast skin

Diagnosis of breast cancer

Along with a thorough physical examination as well as a breast examination, the following tests are performed to diagnose breast cancer:

  • It is an imaging test that helps see below the surface of the breast. It is advisable to get it done every year. If it shows up an abnormality, the doctor may prescribe additional tests.
  • It gives a picture of deep tissues in the breast. It can also indicate whether what is present is a solid tumour or a benign cyst.
  • Breast biopsy. If these two tests do not give satisfactory results, the doctor may perform a biopsy in which a tissue sample is removed from the suspicious area, which is then sent to the laboratory. If it tests positive for cancer, further tests are performed to identify what type of cancer it is.
  • Treatment
  • The stage of cancer and how far it has reached determine what kind of treatment you require.
  • The most common treatment option is surgery. This may involve selective removal of only the suspicious or cancerous spot, or of the entire breast (or both).
  • Radiation therapy uses high-powered external beam radiation to target and kill cancer cells. A type of radiation treatment known as brachytherapy uses radioactive pellets inside the body near a tumour, which work on the cancer cells to reduce them.
  • Chemotherapy uses drugs, often along with other treatments. It is supposed to shrink a tumour so that the surgery when performed, need not be as invasive
  • Depending on the type of breast cancer, hormone therapy can be used to block the body’s production of oestrogen and progesterone which can stimulate the growth of breast cancer.
  • Certain medicines can attack specific mutations or abnormalities in the cancer cells.

If you suspect that you are at risk, it is advisable to go to the doctor without any delay. The earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the chances of survival and recovery.

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