Breast cancer is a malignant (cancerous) disease that starts from cells of the breast. These cancerous cells can spread to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system and continue the uncontrolled growth with fatal results. At first, the cancer grows very slowly. For two to three years it may be detectable by mammography before it can be detected by hand. Cancer detected and treated early is usually curable.
The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump. A hard, painless lump with uneven edges is more likely to be cancer, but it's important to have anything unusual checked.
Other signs include
- change in breast size or shape
- skin irritation or dimpling
- breast pain
- nipple pain or nipple turning inward
- redness, scaliness, or thickening of nipple or breast skin
- a nipple discharge other than breast milk
- a lump in the underarm area
Early detection saves lives. These guidelines can help:
- breast self-exam (BSE). If you detect any of the signs mentioned above, depending on FAQ back-end coding this may need a link? report them to your doctor right away.
- breast examination. Your doctor will feel for any lump in the breast as well as the tissue around it.
- X-ray imaging to find abnormal growths or changes in breast tissue. Women aged 40 and older should have a mammogram annually.
- breast biopsy. A procedure in which samples of suspicious breast tissue are removed to look for cancer.
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). For certain women at high risk for breast cancer, MRI screening is recommended along with a yearly mammogram.
Treatment is always individualised to fit the profile of the patient and the disease.
- Most women with breast cancer will have some type of surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible and some might choose breast reconstruction after cancer surgery. Further treatment is often given preventatively for patients with a risk for recurrence.
- radiation therapy. This is a treatment with high-energy beams (such as x-rays) to kill or shrink cancer cells.
- This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs enter the bloodstream to attack cancer cells anywhere in the body.
- hormonal therapy. If the cancer’s growth is influenced by hormones, anti-oestrogen drugs are used to prevent stimulation of cancer cells.
- biological therapy. This treatment works with your immune system. It can help fight cancer or help control side effects from other cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
All cancer survivors should have follow-up care. Knowing what to expect after treatment can help you and your family make lifestyle changes and important decisions. Always tell your doctor about any changes in your health, especially changes in the treated breast. Essential elements of management for breast cancer survivors who have completed active treatment and have no evidence of disease are
- cancer surveillance,
- encouragement of adherence with ongoing treatment and lifestyle recommendations,
- treatment of medical and psychosocial consequences of cancer and its therapy, and
- care coordination between specialists and primary care providers.