There are reasons to be hopeful despite discovering a breast lump. It’s because breast cancer is not the same what it used to be a few decades ago. There has been a sea change in awareness, it is detected more early now, and there have been advancements in its treatment too. It is thanks to the dedicated health professionals that around 200 thousand American women diagnosed with breast cancer every year can feel relieved today.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Generally there are no visible signs of breast cancer, but patients may discover some breast problems like a painless lump, changing breast shape or size, changes in nipple or discharge, or a swelling under the arm. Rarely breast pain is also a symptom.
Though less frequent a condition, inflammatory breast cancer is characterized by no lump in breast at all. In this condition, the skin over the breasts get inflamed, red and pitted. It is also warm, tender and bears small bumps—like a rash.
Mammography is a crucial tool in detecting breast cancer. The result of the test is called mammogram. It is simply radiograph (X-ray) or the breast and helps in detection of tumor before it is large enough to be felt. It is recommended that women over 40 years of age should have annual mammograms. Those above 50 should get once in two years and those below 40 years should get it once in every three years. The early detection is significant for proper treatment of breast cancer.
Your doctor may need breast ultrasound apart from the cancer symptoms and mammogram. It would help him rule out the presence of cyst on the way of finalizing diagnosis. Cysts are sacs beneath the skin and are not cancerous. Another tool is MRI that doctors mostly prescribe for women at higher risk of having breast cancer.
Anyone can learn how to perform breast self exams to check for breast lumps that may eventually be cancerous. Contrary to the earlier recommendations, when it was recommended to have BSE (breast self exam) once in a month, it is now stressed to know your breast and to be careful to note any changes in shape, size and tenderness of breasts, changes in nipples and any discharge from nipples. BSE is a thorough and careful self examination and it is easy to learn for anyone from any physician.
Lump in breast or armpit?
If you discover you have a lump in breast, the first advice is not to panic at all. It will not help you; rather it may harm you. You need to know that four of every five breast lumps discovered are non cancerous (are benign).These are mostly cysts or some tissue alterations related to the hormonal changes going on with the menstrual cycle. But in any case it needs to be reported to your physician. Last but not the least, if it is cancerous, have hopes, as it is detected earlier.
It is a process in which a small amount of your breast tissue is sucked from the lump with the help of an injection-like tool. The histological test can only confirm ultimately if the lump is cancerous. The biopsy results give good details, so doctor can pin point what type of cancer it is—if it is cancer. It will in turn decide the course and way of treatment.
Cancer responding to cancer
The breast cancer in majority of cases is sensitive or responsive to the hormonal levels of either of estrogen and progesterone. If it has receptors for estrogen it is called ER-positive and if it has receptors for progesterone, it is called PR-positive. This has significant implications for treating the cancer by controlling its progression.
This positivity indicates having multiple receptors for a certain protein called HER2. If it is so, the cancer is most likely to spread faster than other forms of breast cancer. It also has implications for treatment of the cancer.
Breast Cancer Stages
At the time of cancer diagnosis, it is to be learnt how big it is and to what extent it might have already spread. These criteria determine the breast cancer stage. There are four stages through which cancer can be described. Doctors name these as 0-4 depending on many considerations including whether cancer is still limited to the breast only, if it has reached to lymph nodes, and if it has even reached to affecting other organs as well. The treatment strategy depends on the exact stage your doctor would determine.
The chances of survival and faster recovery depend on how early the breast cancer is diagnosed. Here noticing of breast lump becomes important. According to one reliable agency on breast cancer, the American Cancer Society, the chances of survival of women with stage one cancer are fine for five years and beyond. The number of years gets lesser as the stage of cancer progresses. But in the wake of sophisticated treatment techniques available today, the mathematics of survival is being redefined.
The range of surgical procedures applied in treating breast cancer is wide. Severity and spread of cancer may require complete removal of the breast—known as mastectomy. In other cases doctors only need to remove a limited mass of tissues from around the tumor or breast lump. It is then called lumpectomy and falls under conservation procedures. What should be opted for, or whether surgery is required at all can only be determined by a qualified doctor after studying your particular case. It may be concluded by your doctor that only chemotherapy will suffice for treating it.
Your doctor may find it fit to apply heavy radiations to selectively kill the cancer cells. But it is never hundred percent precisely selective. There are side effects as well. Radiation therapy in most cases follows the surgery, when doctors want to eliminate the chances of any remnants of cancerous cells growing into tumors again. And it is applied parallel to chemotherapy in case the metastasis (spread of cancer to other organs) has taken place. The side effects are general like fatigue as well as specific like sunburn-like marks on the area of treatment.
The side effects of treating cancer with drugs—chemotherapy—are prominent, but one cannot help having them as the doctors’ discretion is intended to a better health in its broader and long term perspective of survival and cure. The side effects may include fatigue, debilitation, decreased immunity, excessive hair fall and frequent feeling of vomiting. Chemotherapy may be employed after surgery or in case of spread of cancer to various body parts. In the latter case, it is intended to restrict the growth of cancer. The drugs are mostly given intravenously; but oral drugs or drugs in the form of ‘shots’ can also be given at the discretion of doctors that in turn will depend on severity and spread of cancer.
It is effective if the cancer is sensitive to either estrogens or progesterone groups of hormones. Hormone therapy can suppress the growth of such cancerous tissues well. A hormonal imbalance can also be checked for—alongside cancer symptoms—in order to lower the risk of breast cancer in vulnerable women.
Certain specific drugs are administered to some patients with some specific features like HER2-positive cancer patients. The drugs to counterbalance this protein and its ill effects on cancerous growth can also be administered independently or in combination with chemotherapy. These drugs have lesser side effects than general chemotherapy.
It is important to accept that cancer is a potential threat that changes the perspective about the life as such. The treatments are a struggle and leave you exhausted physically and mentally. Patients deserve all sorts of help to be mentally ready to face the challenge. The sophisticated treatment strategies have potential positive implications, but mental strength is equally important once one notices lump in breast. The patient should be strengthened with moral and social support. The patients should not be ever left to feel isolated.
Reshaping the appearance
In case of surgical treatment of cancer, the affected breast is completely or partially removed. The reconstruction becomes necessary to lend the patient a normal appearance so she could feel comfortable in the society. The reconstruction surgery may involve breast implant or making up for the loss of tissues with the help of tissues from some other part of the body. This can be performed along with mastectomy or sometimes later.
For those patients who don’t prefer to have a reconstructive surgery or when it is not suitable for them, there are alternative ways to reshape the appearance. The breast forms are breast shaped artificial prosthesis to be worn inside the bra. It does away with the need of reconstruction surgery, but is effective only when you are dressed properly.
Who is at risk?
IN general any and every woman is at the risk of having breast cancer. It can be said it is associated with womanhood. You are at greater risk if you have any of your close relatives suffering from this condition. But it is only a prediction—it should also be coupled with the fact that four out of every five women having breast cancer have no history in the family. Having an age of 55 plus also increases the risk of having it.
Genetics and the breast cancer
The studies are still on to relate particular genes to breast cancer. As of now, the genes BRAC1 and 2 have been found to raise the chances to 80 percent if these have mutations. But other genes are yet to be established as having any relation to this condition.
Though none of the following factors would completely rule out the chances of having breast cancer, these are what at most any one could do in order to reduce the chances: try to be within the healthy weight range for your age and height; don’t let yourself into a situation when you do excessively low physical exercises; note that regular alcohol (particularly multiplicity of beverages on a daily basis) enhances the chances of breast cancer. Hormone therapies like that for birth control and after menopause should be taken up very carefully. These also may increase the risk for the duration you take the hormones.
Physical exercise and an elevated mood are reported to be good for both women at risk and those having passed through treatment once.
Research is on
Breast cancer is a social cause now. Generating awareness, social concern and medical research are all important to fight this menace collectively and socially. The survivors and their friends do participate in many endeavors like breast cancer walks that help in fundraising as well as creating awareness among public. There are many government and private organizations that back the scientists and doctors who are at the forefront in this war against breast lump.