What You Should Know About Breast Cancer

What You Should Know About Breast Cancer

Every year in the United States, about 182,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. It accounts for about 26% of all cancers diagnosed among women and it is only second to lung cancer on the cancer-related deaths among women charts. There is a need to create more awareness about breast cancer as the greatest hope of successfully battling the disease lies in early detection. Here are some of the things you need to know about breast cancer:

Breast cancer Symptoms and Warning signs

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump on any or both of the breasts. This is why women are encouraged to regularly carry out a self-examination of both breasts to check for lumps. If detected early enough, mortality arising from breast cancer is highly unlikely. There are other signs of breast cancer besides lumps. They include

  • A noticeable change in the size, shape or roundness of the breast
  • A fluid discharge from the nipple which could be bloody or clear
  • Scaly or inflamed breast skin
  • Hardening of the area under the breast skin
  • Redness of the nipple
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Self-examination of the breast may not be enough to reveal the warning signs of breast cancer. You would still need to schedule regular mammograms if you want to be sure you’re keeping tabs on your health.

Stages of breast cancer

If you or anyone you know has been diagnosed with breast cancer, the doctor would probably have told you at what stage it is. The stages are usually represented by a combination of numbers and letters. Often, it may look like another medical jargon but this simple guide signifies what each stage stands for:

Stage 0: the cancer was caught early and it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.
Stage 1: In stage 1 breast cancer, there is a clearly visible tumor but it has not spread beyond the tissues it originated from. This type of cancer can still be surgically removed. Stage one cancer is further divided into 1A and 1B depending on the size of the tumor and how the lymph nodes are affected.

Stage 1A: This indicates that the tumor is no more than the size of a peanut (2cm max) and is yet to affect the lymph nodes
Stage 1B: There is evidence of spread to the lymph nodes. The cancer cells present appear in small clusters.

Important fact:

5-year survival rate for stage 0 and stage 1A breast cancer is 100%. This emphasizes the role of early detection in improving the prognosis of persons diagnosed with breast cancer.

Stage 3: At this stage, the cancerous cells have spread beyond the tissues it originated from. Muscles and lymph nodes nearby are usually the affected regions but other body organs are still spared at this stage. Stage three is further subdivided into A, B, and C depending on the size and how much it has spread.

Stage 3A and B is usually still operable but stage 3C has the operable and inoperable variants. Remember inoperable doesn’t translate to untreatable. Other treatment options are still available and the survival rate is quite encouraging.

Stage 4: This is by far the most advanced stage. It means the tumor has spread to other organs in the body such as the liver, brain, lungs etc. While this may sound like very bad news, it is not exactly a death sentence. Stage 4 breast cancers still respond to many treatment options and you could live several happy years after the diagnosis.

Breast cancer treatment options

There are numerous treatment options available for people diagnosed with breast cancer. Your doctor would be in the best position to advise on the appropriate options. Some factors are put into consideration before you are advised on the best option for you. They include

  • The type of the cancer
  • The stage at which it was diagnosed
  • The size of the tumors
  • The extent of spread
  • Other specific factors such as the presence of some protein receptors
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The available treatment options

  1. Surgery: This is done to remove the tumor if it is still localized. Sometimes, there may be a need to remove the whole breast, a process known as mastectomy. This is done if the tumor is no longer localized at the point of origin but is still within the breast tissues.
  2. Radiation therapy: This is also done if the cancer is yet to spread beyond the breast. High-energy waves are targeted at the cancerous cells in order to destroy them.
  3. Radiation therapy: This is also done if the cancer is yet to spread beyond the breast. High-energy waves are targeted at the cancerous cells in order to destroy them.
  4. Chemotherapy: A popular treatment for almost all forms of cancer. Drugs are given to destroy the cancerous cells all over the body but they could also destroy normal cells. This accounts for their sides effects such as hair loss, nausea, fatigue etc.
  5. Hormone therapy: Not all persons diagnosed with breast cancer would be eligible for this type of treatment. It involves given drugs to block the production of hormones that are responsible for the proliferation of the cancerous cells.
  6. Targeted treatments: This involves administration of drugs that prompt the immune system to destroy cancer cells or block the growth of cancerous cells in some specific ways.

A great deal of research into treatment options is still ongoing and your doctor may seek your consent about enlisting you for some clinical trials. It is not uncommon to combine a number of treatment options in order to achieve the desired therapeutic goals. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it is important you trust your physician to make the best decisions and also believe this is a battle you can win. If you know someone that has been diagnosed, you should realize this would be a trying period for them and shower them with care and support.