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Everything You Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Empowering knowledge about breast cancer, its prevention, and treatment.

  • 11 Sep 2023
  • 5 min read
  • 94 views

Breast cancer can feel like a daunting and overwhelming topic, but understanding the basics of what it is and how to recognize the signs could help you save your own life or that of someone else. In this article, we will go over everything from breast cancer basics, to recognizing symptoms of breast cancer, causes of the disease as well as breaking down stages for diagnosis so that we can all learn more about how to detect this important health issue. Knowing these key facts may not only help those affected by breast cancer but hopefully allow us to take proactive steps towards prevention and early detection. Additionally, the importance of having proper health insurance coverage for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment cannot be overstated. With the right breast cancer insurance policy, many patients are able to receive the best care possible, including important tests such as mammograms, MRIs, and biopsies. 

 

What is breast cancer? 

Breast cancer originates in the breast tissue, wherein cells mutate and grow out of control, creating a mass of tissue that results in a tumour. Like other cancers, breast cancer cells can grow rapidly, spreading to other tissues and organs leading to a condition known as metastasis. Sometimes, the non-cancerous tissue mass growing in the breast does not spread outside of the breast and is referred to as a benign tumour. This form is usually not life-threatening if treated on time. Some types of breast lumps can be malignant, meaning it can be spread to other body parts. 

 

Symptoms of breast cancer 

It should be noted that the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can vary for each person based on the type of breast cancer. Breast cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages and usually appears in advanced cancer stages. The signs and symptoms are:

●    A breast lump or thickening which is often non-painful

●    A lump or thickened area in or near the breast or underarms

●    A change in shape, cup size or appearance of the breast

●    Reddish skin on the breast

●    A change in nipple appearance  

●    Abnormal or bloody fluid from the nipple.

●    A blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple

●    A distinct area on either side of the breast that differs from the other skin area

 

Levels of pain one may experience 

Pain can be both a symptom of breast cancer itself or a side effect of breast cancer treatment that occurs when nerves or tissues are damaged or inflamed. The frequency of pain increases with the onset and progression of the disease because of which, the sharpness, throbbing, stabbing, aching, tingling, or pinching increases, hampering sleep patterns and the daily performance of the patient which slows down with the spread of the disease.

 

Causes of breast cancer 

The causes of breast cancer are many, but genetic mutations also play a major role in the occurrence of breast cancer. The genes that are responsible for the occurance of breast cancer are breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2) which significantly increases the risk for breast or ovarian cancer.

However, researchers have studied several risk factors that may increase the chances of developing breast cancer. These include:

●    Age: Women aged 50 or older are more at risk to get breast cancer than younger women.

●    Sex: Breast cancer can occur in both men and women but the maximum number of cases of breast cancer are reported in women

●    Personal history of cancer: Our odds could go up slightly if we have certain benign breast conditions.

●    Family history: Women who have a family history of breast cancer face an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Also read:

Stages of breast cancer 

Knowledge of the various stages of breast cancer and its symptoms can help in the early detection of this disease. There are five stages of breast cancer. The higher the stage, the more advanced the cancer will be. 

  • Stage 0: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is non-invasive and commonly referred to as stage 0 in which breast cancer cells have not spread further than the milk ducts.
  • Stage I: If the tumour size is 2 cm and is only present in the breast tissue and has not spread to the lymph nodes or other tissue.
  • Stage II: If the tumour size is 2 cm to 5 cm and has spread to underarm lymph nodes or larger than 5 centimetres across but has not spread to underarm lymph nodes
  • Stage III: In this stage, the tumour may be of any size and has spread from 4 armpit lymph nodes to 9 armpit lymph nodes to the internal mammary lymph node.
  • Stage IV: If the tumour has spread further to tissue around the breast, and nearby lymph nodes and has invaded other parts of the body and further to near and distant lymph nodes.

 

Risk factors associated with breast cancer 

To lower the risk of breast cancer, it's important to understand the factors that contribute to its development, despite the absence of a foolproof prevention method. These factors are listed below:

  • Women in advanced age between 50 and 60 years are at a higher risk of getting this cancer
  • Post-menopausal women are also at higher chance of developing breast cancer, since this stage triggers the cells of the female reproductive system to mutate.
  • Research has consistently shown that women who use oral contraceptives or receive long-acting progesterone shots every 3 months for birth control have a slightly elevated risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who have never used these methods. The use of birth control implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs), skin patches, and vaginal rings may also potentially contribute to the growth of breast cancer cells. In particular, hormone-releasing IUDs have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy in which oestrogen combined with progesterone has been used to help relieve symptoms of menopause can increase the chances of developing breast cancer
  • Inherited gene mutations (such as BRCA): The genes that are responsible for breast cancer are breast cancer gene 1(BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2) which increase the risk for breast or ovarian cancer.
  • A family history of ovarian cancer also raises a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Other factors include:
    Obesity
    Tobacco use


Types of breast cancer 

Breast cancer comes in two main forms: invasive and non-invasive. Invasive breast cancer spreads beyond the breast gland or duct, potentially affecting other areas of the body. Non-invasive breast cancer, on the other hand, remains localised to the gland or duct itself. The non-invasive cancers are of two types: Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS), in which cancer is still concentrated in the ducts, and Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS), in which the disease is confined to the breasts' milk-producing glands and not spread beyond. Invasive breast cancer is an extremely rare form of breast cancer that occurs when cancer grows in the breasts' blood or lymph cells. 

How is breast cancer diagnosed? 

Since the symptoms of breast cancer do not appear in the initial stages, it can be difficult to diagnose breast cancer. Discovering breast cancer may involve several diagnostic techniques, each with its own purpose and capabilities. The doctor will first ask about symptoms based on medical history and after a thorough physical exam, an oncologist may make a diagnosis using the following procedures. 

1. Breast Ultrasound: Utilising sound waves, this non-invasive procedure produces sonograms to capture images of the internal areas of the breast.

2. Diagnostic Mammogram: This highly-detailed X-ray is conducted when a problem, such as lumps or irregularities, is detected during a screening mammogram.

3. Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): By utilising a magnet connected to a computer, this advanced body scan generates precise images of the breast's internal structures.

4. Biopsy: This essential test involves removing tissue or fluid from the breast, which is then examined under a microscope for further analysis. There are various types of biopsies available, including fine-needle aspiration, core biopsy, and open biopsy.

When it comes to diagnosing breast cancer, these methods provide valuable insights and help healthcare professionals choose the most appropriate course of action.

How is breast cancer treated? 

There are several standard types of treatment for breast cancer, the most common form being surgery. Let us explore the types of surgical procedures, as well as other treatment procedures.

1. Breast cancer surgery involves physically removing the cancerous portion of the breast. There are different types of surgery. These include:

  • Lumpectomy: In this method, the tumour in the breast, and a small margin of surrounding tissue around and some of the lymph nodes, are removed.
  • Mastectomy: Mastectomy is a surgical procedure used to remove the entire breast in cases where breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) is not possible.

2. Radiotherapy: Breast cancer treatment commonly employs radiation therapy, which employs high-energy X-rays, protons, or other particles to eradicate cancer cells. The therapeutic impact of radiation therapy is more pronounced on rapidly multiplying cells, such as cancerous cells, compared to normal cells.

3. Chemotherapy: With this therapy, the doctor uses chemical treatment given through an intravenous drip that helps in blocking cell growth. This causes cancerous cells to lose their ability to reproduce.

4. Targeted Therapy: An effective approach that pinpoints and combats specific cancer cells within the body using two types of targeted therapy that include: Tyrosine kinase inhibitors and mammalian target rapamycin inhibitors.

5. Immunotherapy: Doctors use immunotherapy to try to improve a patient's immune response by administering certain drugs like trastuzumab, pertuzumab and margetuximab that include monoclonal antibodies.

Can breast cancer be prevented? 

Like any other cancer, breast cancer cannot be prevented; it can occur in any woman. However, there are certain things we can do that can decrease the risk of getting cancer, such as: 

  • Every woman should regularly examine her breasts by themselves, to look for any changes. Always consult a doctor if you notice any difference, and go for regular check-ups, especially for women over the age of 50. 
  • It is best to avoid smoking cigarettes as this harmful habit increases the risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Regular exercise and a diet packed with healthy fruits and vegetables can aid in lowering the risk of breast cancer while promoting a healthy weight.
  • Studies have shown that receiving hormonal therapy after menopause can also initiate cancer of the breast. These risks should be discussed with your doctor.
  • Breastfeeding for a longer period can also help in reducing the chances of breast cancer. 
  • Drinking alcohol is also one of the major factors for breast cancer, and it is best to be avoided or had in very limited amounts. 
  • Genetic testing could also help to look for a change in the genes responsible for breast cancer that raises our risk.
  • Taking preventive medicines like raloxifene, tamoxifen, and aromatase inhibitors can also help to lower the risk of breast cancer.

Conclusion  

With knowledge about breast cancer symptoms, risk factors, diagnoses, treatments and resources available - anyone can make informed decisions about their health and wellness. Early detection is key, so if you're uncertain about something or feel like there might be a problem - don't hesitate to see your doctor! Knowledge is power when it comes to cancer; the more you know the better off you'll be. Additionally, get breast cancer health insurance so that medical care isn’t out of reach in times of need. Breast cancer insurance provides access to necessary medical treatments, procedures, and medications that may not otherwise be affordable. It provides coverage for breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other therapies that are crucial for managing the illness. With access to healthcare and resources like breast examinations as well as mammograms if needed - early detection and improved quality of life are equally achievable goals. Living fearlessly starts with understanding the details: stay informed and get insured today!

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