Answering All Your Questions About Breast Cancer
Here comes the breast cancer awareness month - October. Most women may be unaware of the basic facts regarding breast cancer. Suppose you or any of your close friends or relatives have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. In that case, you might be very curious to know everything about the disease, including what it is, how it is caused, what its symptoms are, what treatment options are available, etc. Scroll down the blog and gain answers to all the questions you might be having about breast cancer.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow beyond control. There are many different kinds of breast cancer. The kind of breast cancer you have depends on the cells in the breast that turn cancerous.
Breast cancer could start in any part of the breast. A breast is composed of three main components: ducts, lobules, and connective tissue. The lobules are the glands which produce milk. The ducts are tubes that transport milk to the nipple. The connective tissue (consisting of fibrous and fatty tissue) encloses and holds everything together. In most cases, breast cancers start in the lobules or ducts.
Breast cancer can also spread outside the breast through lymph vessels and blood vessels. When breast cancer gets spread to other parts of the body, it is said to have metastasized.
What causes breast cancer?
Scientists are not certain regarding the exact cause of breast cancer. However, several factors are known to increase breast cancer risk in women, including hormonal, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Some common risk factors are listed below:
- Growing age
- Personal history of breast cancer
- Early menstruation
- Late menopause
- Obesity after menopause
- Family history of breast cancer
- Use of oral contraceptives
- First pregnancy after the age of 30 years or no prior pregnancies
- History of radiation therapy to the chest
- Alcohol use
- Presence of some specific inherited genetic changes
- Long-term use of combined hormone therapy
What are the early warning signs of breast cancer?
Most people think breast lumps are the only symptom of breast cancer, which is not valid. Many other symptoms show up and maybe before the breast lumps.
The following are some other common early warning symptoms of breast cancer:
- lumps inside the breast or underarm area
- pain in a specific area that does not go away
- changes in breast shape and size
- a rash or sore on the nipple
- inversion of the nipple or any other part of the breast
- nipple discharge that starts out of the blue
- visible veins on the surface of the breast
- redness, swelling, or darkening of the breast
- dimpling of the skin on the breast
What does a breast cancer lump feel like?
Not all breast lumps feel the same. Your doctor should check any lump and determine whether it can be a symptom of breast cancer.
Generally, a breast cancer lump has the following characteristics:
- is painless
- has irregular edges
- is a hard mass
- appears in the upper outer portion of your breast
- doesn’t move when pushed (or is immobile)
- grows over time
Remember, not all lumps that meet the above traits are cancerous. Also, all cancerous lumps may not have all of these characteristics.
A cancerous lump may feel soft, tender, and rounded and can occur anywhere in the breast. In some instances, the lump can even be painful. Some women also have dense, fibrous breast tissue. Feeling lumps or changes in your breasts can be more challenging if this is the case.
Having dense breasts also makes it harder to identify breast cancer on mammograms. Regardless of the tougher tissue, you can still be able to recognize when a change starts to occur in your breast.
Can men get breast cancer?
Mainly breast cancer occurs in women, but men can have it too. Most people overlook the fact that men also have breast tissue and that they can also develop breast cancer.
In the United States, the occurrences of breast cancer in men is extremely rare. Just 1 out of 100 diagnoses of breast cancer is found to be in a man.
What is inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)?
Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is a rare disease that usually develops in the soft tissues, obstructing lymph vessels in the breast skin. That's the reason why the breast usually becomes firm, itchy, tender, warm, and red, from the rise in blood flow and an accumulation of white blood cells. IBC varies from other forms of breast cancer, particularly in symptoms, treatment, and prognosis.
The term “inflammatory” is not intended to indicate what's happening inside the breast, but only in how the breast looks. When an infection or injury makes the breast inflamed, they usually become red, itchy, swollen, or tender, but the causal factor is not inflammation.
At what age should I begin screening for breast cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, women at average risk for breast cancer should begin screening at the following age group:
- Optional mammograms starting at age 40 years
- Annual mammograms for women ages 45 - 54 years
- Mammograms once in every two years for women 55 years and older, unless they opt to stick with yearly screenings
- Mammograms and MRIs for some women at increased risk of breast cancer
The ACS also suggests that women should be aware of the benefits and risks concerned with breast cancer screening, and how their breasts usually appear and feel like and inform any changes to their doctor straight away.
What type of doctor should I consult if I think I may have breast cancer?
If you suspect that you may have breast cancer, you should consult your general physician or OB/GYN. Many different doctors may play a crucial role in breast cancer treatment. A list of medical professionals who may be involved in your care are as follows:
- Medical oncologist: A doctor who has specialization in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormonal therapy.
- Surgical oncologist: A surgical oncologist is a medical professional who uses surgery to identify, stage, and treat cancer and help manage some cancer-related symptoms. He may also perform biopsies and other surgical procedures like removing a lump or a breast.
- Radiation oncologist: A doctor who has specialization in cancer treatment using radiation to contract tumors and demolish cancer cells
What are the treatment options available for breast cancer?
The main objective of breast cancer treatments are:
- To demolish cancerous cells as much as possible.
- To prevent tumors from recurring
The following are some of the treatment options for breast cancer:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Hormone therapy
Are there any side effects associated with these treatment options?
- Surgery: In the treated area, you may have short-term pain or discomfort. Also, the breast's skin may feel firm, and the muscles of the arm may feel weak. Surgeries that involve lymph nodes may lead to swelling in the arm. This condition is also referred to as lymphedema.
- Radiation therapy: Several breast cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy experience breast pain and irritation. These symptoms tend to appear within a couple of weeks of starting the treatment and get recovered on their own within six months of the treatment. In some cases, these symptoms may not develop for several months or years after the treatment. Another common side effect of this treatment is fatigue, particularly in the last few weeks of the treatment.
- Targeted therapy: The side effects of HER2-positive targeted therapy drugs are usually mild, but severe side effects are also possible. It may include mouth sores, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and rashes.
- Chemotherapy: Some chemotherapy drugs can cause side effects like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, nerve damage, sore mouth, and lowered blood counts.
- Hormone therapy: Certain hormone therapies for breast cancer can lead to several side effects, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness irritation, and discharge, irregular menstrual cycles, decreased libido, and mood swings. Aromatase blockers can also cause muscle and joint pain, as well as an elevated risk of bone thinning (or osteoporosis).
Is it possible to manage the side effects of breast cancer treatment?
Each breast cancer treatment has certain side effects, which can be managed with research-based therapies. The main aim behind this is to enhance your strength and stamina so that you can better adhere to your treatment routine without any interruption. Pain management, nutrition therapy, oncology rehabilitation, and naturopathic support are some of the best examples of supportive treatments that can help breast cancer patients decrease breast cancer treatment's side effects.
Does breast cancer treatment affect my ability to have a baby?
In case you are a woman of childbearing age, you might be concerned about the effect on your capability to conceive a child in the future. Treatments, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two, may impact fertility.
Chemotherapy can affect the working of the ovaries, decreasing the quality or number of eggs. These anti-cancer medications can also cause infertility in women who haven’t yet attained the pre-menopausal phase. The odds of infertility may rely on the type of chemotherapy medications used, the dose prescribed, and your age.
Radiation therapy demolishes cancer cells by ceasing or decreasing their growth and division. Because radiation often passes through healthy tissues, and organs close to the cancer site can be affected. This may result in temporary or permanent infertility, mainly if the radiation was provided directly into the pelvic region.
You may require to consider the alternatives for maintaining fertility before starting with breast cancer treatment. Also, discuss all your concerns and questions with your oncologist.
Will the treatment be successful? Am I going to make it?
This is the question most cancer patients have on their minds, even if they don’t share it with anyone. The truth is - no one can ever guarantee you the success of cancer treatment - neither your oncologist nor your surgeon. However, the odds of success are much more than you may believe. A study suggests that most women with breast cancer in the U.S.survive for more than five years.
We would recommend doing a lot of research. You can go to a local library or collect information over the web. It will also help you to ask the right questions to your doctor. Some doctors do not share the pathology report illustrating the type of cancer and likely information regarding its spread. Just ask for it. There’s also a possibility that your doctor does not offer all the treatment alternatives. While many other doctors will lay out every possible treatment option, you can choose as per your analysis and personal preference. In either way, you will feel more confident as you have done your own detailed research.
How am I going to look after breast cancer treatment?
The answer to this question depends upon what you do. If you receive a mastectomy covered by your health insurance, your insurance is obligatory to cover the complete reconstructive surgery. You may also have the plastic surgeon awaiting entry into the operating room the minute your breast surgeon heads out. But you will have to question this; please don't anticipate your doctor or the insurer to recommend it! Plastic surgeons could reconstruct real looking breasts with implants or tissue from your own body (like muscle or fat). They can also reconstruct the nipple.
Tags: Common questions about breast cancer, Breast cancer questions and answers, Breast cancer questions to ask