The awareness of chronic and life threatening diseases is a must to spread across the world because the term ‘cancer’ may scare the hell out of people but they still don’t know exactly what it is and why it happens at the first place. The number of cases of cancer has been increasing time and again.
Breast Cancer is the most common and leading cancer among women throughout the world. According to World Health Organization (WHO) over 5 lacs women died in the year 2011. It is believed that it occurs to women residing in the developed countries but if stats are to be taken into consideration, about 50% of the breast cancer cases occur in under-developed and developing nations too and out of that, 58% of those cancer cases result into deaths.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast Cancer occurs when cells abnormally grow inside the breasts and in addition to this, the dead cells don’t get expelled out, thereby altering the usual protocol of controlled cell multiplication and removal, if dead. This results into the formation of tumor. The tumor not necessarily causes cancer as there are non-cancerous tumors as well. There are basically two kinds of tumors – Benign and Malignant. Benign tumors do not have capability to spread across other bodily parts. In other words, these cannot invade, unlike Malignant tumors that spread to surrounding tissues and hence other parts of the body, thereby resulting into life threatening issues, if not diagnosed early.
There are also cases of Cancer of Unknown Primary origin (CUP), which refers to cancer that, despite of the absence of tumor, occurs anyway and is detected as metastatic nature. Metastasis is a process in which the cancer cells spread to other organs of the body without any direct link or connectivity. These types of cells have the capacity to penetrate the lymphatic walls or blood vessels, thereby getting circulated elsewhere. Once these tumor cells come to rest at other location, these tend to re-penetrate the walls and multiply, eventually causing clinically detectable (metastatic or secondary) tumor. Now if breast cancer metastasizes to the lungs, it is not lung cancer but metastatic breast cancer. It is the Metastasis that determines how far (stages) the cancer has reached. The chances of getting entirely cured is greatly reduced or even removed, if final stages are detected. The doctors always try their best to remedy it with the best treatment possible.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
1. Swelling, partially or wholly, even if no specific lump is seen or felt
2. Nipple retraction, that is, turning inwards
3. Skin irritation and/or dimpling
4. Breast and/or nipple pain and discharge (not to be confused with breast milk)
5. Scaliness, redness, or nipple or breast skin thickening
Sometimes the breast cancer cells reach under the arm or around collar bones, causing lumps or swelling, even before the primary tumor of the breast tissue grows significantly large to be felt. The source needs to be recognized before it’s too late. Some of the symptoms in few cases arise even though there is an absence of cancer or tumor, because of some different reasons. Only a doctor can confirm this through various tests and scanning, whether the issue is a cause of concern. So, if you are suspicious of any of these symptoms, please have an appointment with your healthcare provider.
The doctor determines the certainty of presence and intensity through physical exam, biopsy, mammograms of both the breasts, chest x-ray, bone scans, MRI, PET scans and/or CT scans. He/she may also carry blood tests in order to exactly know whether it has spread to certain organs or the overall health.
Stages of Breast Cancer
According to the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) the breast cancer stages are based on TNM system.
1. What the size of the tumor (T) is and whether it has grown to nearby areas.
2. Whether the cancer has reached to nearby lymph nodes (N).
3. Whether it has metastasized (M)
Once the above mentioned conditions are determined, the doctor needs to do the stage grouping. For instance, Stage 0 Tis, N0, M0; Stage IA T1, N0, M0; Stage IB T0 or T1, N1mi, M0, and so on. There are 5 stages in total, starting from 0. Everything is written on the patient’s pathology report.
Chemotherapy vs Radiation Therapy
Many of you might have heard about the Chemotherapy (a.k.a. chemo) as well as the Radiation therapy for the cancer treatments. Wondering what exactly are these? Let me explain this.
Depending on the current condition of the patient, any one of these or their combination could be chosen by the doctor in order to get remedied. The Radiation Therapy is done through using the high energy waves, targeting those points where the source of the tumor is detected. This prevents it from getting maligned or spread. The tumor could also be surgically removed if it is too big. The energy waves are done to make sure that the minute particles aren’t remaining.
Chemotherapy, on the other hand, uses very strong drugs in order to target the cancer cells wherever these are present (in case these cells have already metastasized), apart from being at the primary location. The procedure has the ability to kill the cancer cells as well as the healthy cells, which later results into effects on blood-forming cells in bone marrow, hair follicles, cells present in the mouth, reproductive system and digestive tract, and therefore several issues occur like baldness, infection, anemia, weight change, kidney problems, fertility issues, appetite changes, digestion problems, nausea, vomit, and so on. These issues normally don’t last for lifetime but just during the process and post few months; although, every person reacts to the medications and procedure differently.
There are also psychological issues that the patients have to deal with like stress and depression. The doctors and other therapists need to intervene to let the person get through this difficult journey.
Myths and Facts of Breast Cancer Busted
There are many myths associated with breast cancer. This is important to spill the beans because one should be educated when it comes to dealing with sensitive cases and prevent a person from following wrong habits that have no concern with the real issue. So, let’s get started.
Myth 1: Underwired bras cause cancer formation
Fact: Underwired bras have absolutely no relation with the formation of tumor and cancer. Previously it was believed because there were concerns regarding toxin build-up because of restriction in the flow of lymph fluid, but there is no evidence supporting this.
Myth 2: Men don’t get breast cancer
Fact: There are significantly lower number of cases of men but few of them get caught in this issue because they do have smaller breast tissues, thereby making them as well susceptible.
Myth 3: Drinking warm water from bottle made of plastic causes breast cancer
Fact: Many people fear that there is a chemical release, known as BPA (Bisphenol A) that get interacted with our hormones, causing cancer. BPA gets released if plastics are exposed to anything warm but the amount is within safe limits, hence not causing any trouble at all.
Myth 4: Mobile phones cause breast cancer
Fact: The radio waves being produced and received by the mobile phones are low-energy non-ionizing radiation. Such types of radiation also includes UV rays, infrared waves and visible light. There is currently no evidence that supports this statement. Again, a myth!
Myth 5: If you have a breast cancer, you will notice a lump
Fact: A lump (painful or non-painful) is one of the possible symptoms that some people may notice and others might not, if they ever develop a breast cancer. It does not apply to each and every case. If someone observes some changes that they never noticed before, they must consult a doctor to be certain of whatever it is. Sometimes, the signs and symptoms are similar to tumor and/or cancer but the doctor diagnoses it to be something else, which is less troublesome.
Myth 6: Breast injury can lead to cancer
Fact: Breast injury cannot lead to cancer. It will simply cause temporary bruises and swelling that will subside with time. At the most, an injury can only cause benign (non-cancerous) lumps which are actually scar tissues formed when the body starts its mechanism of repairing the damaged fat tissues.
Myth 7: Deodorants cause breast cancer
Fact: There is no evidence that supports this claim that the ingredients present in the deodorants and antiperspirants such as aluminium or parabens cause any form of cancer. Some people worry that antiperspirants and deodorants block the sweat from coming out and therefore causing the toxin build-up in the lymph glands under arms, resulting into tumor and cancer formation. This is far from the truth since our body knows several ways to deal with the toxins that form inside and there are many modes of excretion as well, other than just sweating; it does not even include the lymph glands.
Myth 8: Stress leads to breast cancer
Fact: There are no supporting evidences that prove this claim. Although, if a person is suffering from chronic stress, anxiety and/or depression, she is likely having addictive habits like smoking, alcohol consumption, doing drugs, which can result into developing the breast cancer. This does not imply that stress causes it at the first place.
Myth 9: Pierced nipples cause breast cancer
Fact: Currently there is no proof that confirm the likelihood of developing the breast cancer due to pierced nipples. Piercing the nipples is usually at risk to developing the infection as long as the beholder wears the jewelery, or might be even longer.
Myth 10: You will develop the breast cancer only if you have a family history
Fact: It is not necessary that you have a family history of breast cancer. You might even develop it without it. Although, if your first degree relatives such as siblings, parents or children has had suffered or is currently suffering from this issue, your chances will likely increase. This chance increases to 5 times than average if two or more of your first-degree relatives suffer. This is because of the probability of the presence of some specific abnormal genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2 or CHEK2).
Risk Factors That Lead To Breast Cancer
There are some risk factors that lead to breast cancer, some of which are as follows:
1. Late or no pregnancy at all – Getting pregnant for the first time post 35 years of age increases the chances of having breast cancer. This does not mean that those who has had babies during early age is completely free of the risk. It is just that the risks are lesser at young age and more at older age.
2. Sedentary lifestyle – Women who are very less physically active are likely having breast cancer.
3. Being overweight or obese, particularly after menopause – Accumulation of fats inside the body isn’t a good sign and so it is possible that you might suffer from breast cancer. After menopause there are hormonal fluctuations that leads to this issue, particularly if you are overweight or obese, and so the chances increase even higher.
4. Getting older – Most cases cover this criteria and hence women who are over 50 years of age likely develop the issue.
5. Periods starting at early age and menopause after 55 years – This leads to exposure of estrogen hormone for longer duration of lifetime, therefore elevating the risk.
6. Family history – Having someone in the family who has had breast cancer or currently having it elevates the risk and this risk heightens even more if two or more people in the family have this. This is because of the genetic mutations and presence of abnormal genes (as stated above in the myths and facts).
7. History of non-cancerous breast diseases – If you have had ever developed diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ, you increase the chances of developing breast cancer as well.
8. Consumption of oral contraceptive pills – There are certain types of oral contraceptive pills for birth control that can cause the breast cancer.
9. History of breast cancer – All kinds of cancers are recurrent in nature and so breast cancer is no exception. If someone has a history of breast cancer, she has to go to the doctor after every few months, as recommended by the doctor herself/himself. The doctors who treat cancer patients know about this and they will definitely write the next due appointment date.
Having risk factors does not directly conclude that the individual is definitely going to suffer from the issue. Not having even a slight risk factor might also lead to breast cancer as well. So, basically there are no hard core protocols, although following healthy lifestyle and staying positive would still be recommended. A cancer could be treated entirely if detected in early stages. Once developed and treated, the person is advised to always have regular checkups so as to prevent its recurrence.
There are also the cases of successful treatments of those having Fourth Stage cancer. Apart from following the medical procedure and doctor’s advice, staying focused on letting it go through meditation and mind relaxation techniques, could be best take on this. Therefore, if you are one of those individuals, please be patient and let your healthcare provider do his/her job. You must keep in contact with those who have gone through all this and still leading a peaceful life. And always be positive, as it is always mind over matter!