Breast Cancer – The Fast Spreading Disease

October is the breast cancer month. Let us learn more about that.

Breast cancer is a cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the inner lining of the milk ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women. But male breast cancer is rare. It is 100 times greater in women, when compared to men.

The breast cancer is categorized into different types depending upon the stages, spreading speed, aggressiveness and the genetic group it belongs to. 40,000 deaths recorded in US in the year 2004, where as 216,000 cases were recorded.

The common symptoms of breast cancer include

1.       Formation of a lump in the underarm area

2.       Thickening of the breast area

3.       Lumps in breast area

4.       Change in the nipple tenderness

5.       Change in the size or shape of the breast and nipple

6.       Nipple turning inwards, that is into the breast

7.       Discharge of fluid from the nipple

8.       The skin of the breast / nipple will look scaly, with red and swollen marks

Even if there are no symptoms, it is advised to have a breast cancer check up, once in year for every woman after crossing 40 years.  

The different types of diagnosis are

1.       Clinical Breast Exam – This is just by checking the outer appearance, size and texture of the breast. The physician may look for lumps or change in the breast.

2.       Diagnostic Mammogram – This is the method of taking x-ray of the breast. This will give more detailed images of the breast, the areas looking abnormal.

3.       Ultrasound – Using this device, the sound waves are sent in, which will bounce from the tissues. Using that echoes, a picture will be created by computer, which will help for further analysis.

4.       Magnetic Resonance Imaging – It is also called as MRI, which uses a powerful magnet to make detailed study of the breast tissue.

5.       Biopsy – In this method, the fluid or tissue around the breast area will be taken as sample for testing. Tests will  be made on the samples collected and analyzed for the breast cancer symptoms.

The risk factors of breast cancer are

1.       Alcohol consumption

2.       Age and sex

3.       Hormone problems

4.       High fat diet

5.       Pregnancy and childbearing

6.       Obesity

The risk is more, if

1.       The woman has one breast already affected by breast cancer

2.       Her family members are already having this problem

3.       Presence of abnormal cells like atypical hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

4.       The women belong to races of Asian, Latina or African American.

5.       Less or no physical activity


The treatments mostly depend upon the stage. Here are few methods.

1. Surgery – It is the most common method. It is of two types. One method is removing the affected tissues, but not the breast. This method is called as breast-sparing surgery. The other one is removing the breast itself. It is called as Mastectomy.

2. Radiation Therapy – This is the method of sending high radiation energy to kill the cancer tissues / cells. This could be an external radiation therapy where rays are passed by a machine outside or could be internal radiation therapy where thin plastic tubes holding radioactive substances is placed inside the breast.

3. Chemotherapy – This is the method in which anti cancer drugs will be given in the form of injections to kill the cancer cells.

4. Hormone Therapy – Some breast cancers require the hormones estrogen and progesterone to grow. They will have receptors for those hormones. Such cancers are treated with drugs that interfere with those hormones. The most commonly used drug is tamoxifen, which shuts off the production of estrogen in the ovaries or elsewhere. So, the side effect of this drug is, it may damage the ovaries and end fertility.

5. Biological Therapy – This is used to increase the immunity system. Herceptin is given by vein either alone or with chemotherapy. First time receiver may have side effects like fever and chills, nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, etc… Herceptin may also cause heart damage sometime, leading to heart failure. Sometimes it may affect the lungs also. So need to have an eye on heart and lungs health while doing this treatment.

Related Articles