A closer look at breast cancer

Dr Hamid Mustafa

What you need to know:

Here's what you need to know.

Breast cancer is still one of the most common cancers all over the world, with one in eight women diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime.
But if symptoms are caught early enough, treatments can be very effective. That’s why ‘breast cancer awareness month’ is considered so important, also known as pink October.

What is breast cancer?
The cancer typically affects women over the age of 50, but it is possible for younger women to find cancerous tumours too. So age is no bar, it can affect both young and old women.
Men can also get breast cancer but it is a rare case. Almost one per cent of all breast cancer cases affects men. As per the research data, it has been seen that cancer among male is more aggressive and common among obese male.
If symptoms are caught early, there is a good chance of recovery with treatments currently available.
 And again, that’s what this month is all about – ensuring women know how to check for lumps and encouraging them to get suspicious bumps checked out.

Causes and types
 Causes or risk factors of breast cancer are said to include your age, family history of breast cancer, a previous diagnosis, overweight or obese and excessive use of alcohol.
There are two main types of breast cancer: Non-invasive (called carcinoma in situ), which is found in the ducts of the breast and invasive breast cancer, which is the most common type and develops in the cells that line the breast ducts.
 The former doesn’t usually spread outside the breast while the latter can.
When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, this is known as metastatic or secondary breast cancer.

Main symptoms to look out for
Approximately 90 per cent of breast lumps are non-cancerous – though any new lumps should be checked by a doctor. Other symptoms include:
• Nipple discharge
• Change in size or shape of breast
• Lump or swelling in the armpit
• Dimples appearing on the skin of your breast
• Nipple rash
 • Nipple becoming sunken into breast

How is breast cancer diagnosed and treated?
Diagnosing breast cancer usually involves an initial appointment with a general physician, which will include an examination, and a referral for a mammogram or ultra sound at a hospital. If necessary, a biopsy may be taken.
A mammogram is usually on older patients, where breast tissue is less dense, and includes an x-ray of the breast. As per the guidelines, mammography should be recommended in women above 40 only for screening. If there is a risk factor or a family history of breast cancer then mammography can be adviced early also.
Women over the age of 50 are often invited for a breast cancer screening every three years as the risk of breast cancer increases with age.
Treatments for breast cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Sometimes, hormone or biological treatments are also used.
Secondary breast cancer isn’t usually curable, hence often treatments are simply to achieve remission – which is symptom relief.

Can breast cancer be prevented?
It still isn’t clear as to what causes breast cancer, hence it is difficult to know whether there is anything that can be done to prevent getting it.
However, doctors do recommend maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and ensuring you do not drink too much or take too much saturated fat.
The author is a clinical oncologist with the Regency Medical Centre.