May 28, 2013

The Signs of Breast Cancer

What is breast cancer?

A disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues in the breast is known as breast cancer. It is a heterogeneous disease, which means that it is a different disease in different women, different age groups and has different cell populations within the tumor itself. This disease is usually more aggressive in younger women.

What are the signs and symptoms associated with this disease?

Breast cancer awareness will help save your life because if the disease is discovered early, new vistas of treatment will be available to you.

Luckily all breast lumps are not cancerous, yet the most common sign of breast cancer in both men and women is a lump or thickening of the breast and swollen lymph nodes in the underarm (axillary area). Sometimes the lump is also found in the area above the collarbone (supraclavicular area). This is an indicator that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

The other signs and symptoms are:
  • A change in the color or texture of the dark pigmented area surrounding the nipple (known as areola)
  • Swelling and a feeling of warmth in the breast
  • A feeling of scaling and/or itching (called pruritus) on the nipple
  • Tenderness around the nipple
  • Sudden discharge from the nipple
  • Development of rash around the nipple
  • Increase in the size of the breast
  • New pain that develops in one spot
  • Pitting of the overlying skin which gives it an orange like appearance
  • A breast lump that is non-tender
  • Pulling in of the nipples or other areas of the breast
  • Breast ulcer may develop as a later symptom of breast cancer.
What is the treatment available?

The treatment will involve surgery followed by a combination of radiation, hormonal therapy, and chemotherapy. It is important to remember that the treatment varies from one individual to another.

Surgery is one such treatment that involves the removal of the lump. This may also include the removal of the lymph nodes in the armpit. The breast is only removed when absolutely necessary.

Chemotherapy is a procedure in which medicines that intervene with the growth of cancer cells and divisions are given. This is done to reduce the size of the tumors and to kill them too.

Hormonal therapy involves chemical signals that are released by different parts of the body and can be carried in the blood to some other area to have an effect there. Anti-oestrogens, aromatase inhibitors or LHRH analogs are designed to bar the effects of estrogen or its production. This results in the stopping or slowing down the growth of cancer cells.

Radiation Therapy as also X-rays and other high-energy rays are applied to the tumor and the surrounding areas to destroy the cancer cells.

When should I opt for medical advice?

You will be happy to know that not all breast cancers are cancerous. But despite that, it is advisable to visit the doctor as soon as you notice a lump or any of the tell tale signs. If you have already undergone treatment for the same, it is important to report any new signs and symptoms immediately. To be on the safe side, you could also talk to your doctor about developing a breast-screening program. This will depend on your family history and other factors.


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