In this write-up, we will take a deep dive into the types, symptoms, causes, preventive measures, and treatment of breast cancer.
What Is Cancer?
Cancer is a condition where cells in a particular part of the body begin to grow and reproduce themselves without control. It is a large group of diseases that can invade most organs and tissues of the body.
These cancerous cells more often develop in one part of the body before spreading to other areas. This process is referred to as “metastasis,” and it is a major cause of death from cancer.
Cancer is regarded as the second leading cause of death all over the world. It accounted for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018.
The most common types of cancer are prostate, lung, colorectal, stomach, liver, cervical, thyroid, and breast. These types of cancer can develop in either or both genders.
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. It is a disease in which cells in the breast reproduce out of control. It forms in the cells of the breast.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women in Nigeria and all over the world. Breast cancer can occur in both males and females, but it is more common in women.
There are different kinds of breast cancer, and this depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer. Breast cancer can start to develop in major parts of the breast. A breast is made up of three major parts: the lobules, ducts, and connective tissue.
The lobules are the glands that produce milk. The ducts are tubes that carry milk to the nipple. The connective tissue envelopes and holds everything together. Most types of breast cancer start in the ducts or lobules.
Breast cancer can spread outside the breast through blood vessels. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is referred to as metastasis.
Types of Breast Cancer
The major types of breast cancer are:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma: The cancer cells develop in the ducts and then grow outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma: The cancer cells develop in the lobules and then spread into the nearby breast tissues. These invasive cancer cells can also metastasize to other parts of the body.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): This is a breast disease that can lead to invasive breast cancer. The cancer cells are only in the lining of the ducts and have not metastasized into other tissues in the breast.
- Male breast cancer: This type of breast cancer is rare and forms in the breast tissue of men. Though breast cancer is most commonly regarded as a disease that affects women, it does occur in men. Male breast cancer is most common in older men, although it can develop at any age.
There are several other common types of breast cancer, such as Paget’s disease, medullary, mucinous, inflammatory breast cancer, angiosarcoma, inflammatory breast cancer, invasive lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), and male breast cancer.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Some symptoms of breast cancer may include:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue of the breast.
- Change in size, shape, or appearance of the breast.
- Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling, peeling, scaling, crusting, or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple or breast skin.
- A newly inverted nipple.
- Redness of the skin over your breast.
Causes of Breast Cancer
The causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, especially in identifying why breast cancer could occur in one person and not another. However, some risk factors that have been identified to affect the likelihood of an individual developing breast cancer are:
- Being female: Women are much more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
- Age: The risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age.
- Personal history of breast conditions: When one has had a breast biopsy that finds lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia of the breast, you have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer: When one has had breast cancer in one breast, there is an increased risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
- Family history of breast cancer: If one’s parents, siblings, or any member of one’s family were diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly at a young age, the risk of breast cancer is increased. Although a lot of people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the ailment.
Other important risk factors include:
- Inherited genes that increase cancer risk.
- Radiation exposure.
- Beginning your period at a younger age.
- Beginning menopause at an older age.
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy.
- Drinking alcohol.
Stages of Breast Cancer
There are five major stages in the growth of breast cancer, all of which should only be decided by a doctor after a physical evaluation, a mammogram, and other diagnostic imaging. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or presume any of these.
The five stages are:
- Stage 0Here, the abnormal cells may have formed but not spread to the surrounding tissues.
- 2. Early Stage/Stage I: The cancer may have spread to a small section of the surrounding tissues.
- 3. Localised Stage/Stage II: A tumour between 20 and 50mm in size will have formed, which may or may not involve the lymph nodes.
- 4. Regional Spread/Stage III: The tumour formed will be larger than 50mm in diameter, involving the lymph nodes, and spread towards the chest region. In some cases, the tumour of the body will no longer be present and has metamorphosed into full-blown cancer.
- 5. Distant Spread/Stage IV: The cancer would have spread from beyond the breasts to other parts of the body.
- Consult with your doctor about breast cancer screening. Discuss with your doctor the benefits and risks of screening.
- Get familiar with your breasts through breast self-examination for breast awareness. If there are new changes or lumps in your breasts, talk to your doctor immediately.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy. A combination of hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Choose a healthy diet.
Treatment for Breast Cancer
Breast cancer treatment more often depends on the stage of the cancer a patient is in, but the major forms of treatment are:
This employs the use of radiation therapy (radiotherapy) and teletherapy.
- Radiotherapy: This is a type of cancer treatment that focuses on the use of beams of radiation in high doses to shrink and destroy growing cancer cells and tumours. This is done by focusing on the affected areas. This is delivered by a radio machine that bombards the targeted area with invisible rays.
- Surgical treatment: This includes tissue expansion, lymph node dissection, lumpectomy, and mastectomy.
- Mastectomy: A mastectomy is a surgery conducted to remove the breast. A mastectomy is usually employed as a means to fully eradicate breast cancer by taking out the affected tissues in the breast, or sometimes the whole breast in some cases. A mastectomy may also be carried out as a pre-emptive measure for people who may be likely to be affected by breast cancer due to past experiences, medical history, or a combination of other factors.
- Lumpectomy (breast lump removal surgery): This is a surgical procedure carried out to remove the lump and any other developing unhealthy tissues. Unlike mastectomy, which removes the entire breast, lumpectomy focuses on the removal of the lump and infected tissues and hence can be referred to as “breast-conserving surgery.
This involves the use of oestrogen modulators and chemotherapy.
In some cases, a combination of two or more of these treatment options is used to fully combat the cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy: This is a standard form of treatment that involves the aggressive use of anti-cancer drugs to combat the cancer cells in the body. It targets the cancer cells at the point of growth and rapid cell division and, in some cases, slows down the growth of tumours.