Getting to know about Breast Cancer

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By Dr Khushboo Shah Sawant

Cancer, as we talked about last week is something that brings fear in the minds of people. It is not only a physical ailment but also affects the person emotionally as well as financially. All in all, it is a condition which affects a person but where everyone surrounding the person affected, also suffer invariably. The last time we discussed the various forms of tumours as well as the details about cancer, its complications and prognosis. This time, we will take one of the most common forms of cancer seen all over the world and discuss some details which all women must be aware of.

So we start with the basics here of what is breast cancer. Breast cancer is a condition which develops because of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the breast tissue. The growth of these abnormal cells most commonly form a tumour in the breast, which often can be felt like a lump therin. There are various variants of cancer in the breast, however the most common form is the cancer which is formed in the milk secreting ducts is known as ‘ductal carcinoma’

Having said that, we now move on to the next question: what causes breast cancer? The answer to this is still ambiguous, since the exact reason that causes breast cancer in women is still not known. However, it has been seen that the most likely cause may be a combination of a genetic predisposition and age, along with environmental factors. This means that if there is an existence of breast cancer in the family genetic makeup like an immediate blood relative having suffered from it, the chances of the person to get affected increases many fold as well as exposure to cancer causing agents then the chances of suffering from breast cancer has been noted to increase. However, many health experts say that this may not be a confirmed point as there are various incidents noted where women with positive risk factors never suffer from breast cancer while others with no such history may succumb to it.

There have been some risk factors which are seen to be more commonly noted among people suffering from this kind of cancer. The first one being gender as women are known to be more commonly affected by breast cancer, while though rare, it has been seen in men. Next is age, as with increasing age, the chances of breast cancer are seen to increase. After this comes family history, if there have been immediate blood relatives in the family who have suffered from breast cancer the chances of the person increase, for eg. If the mother or sister have suffered from breast cancer, the person stands at a 50% higher chance as compared to any other person who has no such history. Personal history also is important, if a person has already suffered from any other forms of cancer, her chances also increase. Obesity is another risk. Overweight or obese people stand a greater risk as compared to healthier people. Also Alcohol consumption in excess has been noted as another risk factor. Medication : certain medications containing synthetic forms of estrogen are also said to be cancer causing agents when taken without correct medical supervision. Age at menstruation, menopause and childbirth may also play a role in the causing of cancer.

Moving on to our most obvious next question: how can breast cancer be detected? Breast cancer often progresses without any apparent symptom and may show symptoms only after it has progressed to a great extent. However, one of the most common and easy steps in detecting breast cancer is self examination. Some commonly seen symptoms of breast cancer are a lump formation or thickening in the breast tissue, any abnormal discharge from the breast through the nipples, changes in the shape or size of the nipple or inward turning of the nipple, any changes in the shape and size of the breast, scaling of the skin of the breast etc. It is of vital importance to do a self examination on regular basis, to check for any changes in the breast or around the breast. Apart from doing a self examination, there is a procedure called as ‘mammography’ which is the examination of breast that checks for any form of abnormal growth in the breasts.

Today with the advances in science and technology, there are various treatment options available for breast cancer. The key is timely detection of the cancer. Treatment options may be invasive or conservative in nature, like radiation, hormonal therapy, partial or complete breast removal etc. With improved cosmetic surgery, even reconstruction of the removed breast is possible. While often cancer is an inevitable condition we can on our part can do our bit to try and stay healthy. This can be done by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and staying active, keeping consumption of alcohol to a bare minimum, eating healthy food etc. It is also important to be well aware of one’s family health history as it plays a vital role.

The causing of cancer may not be in our hands but regular checkups and leading a healthy lifestyle is something we can do as our bit, to keep cancer at bay.

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