Breast cancer is the cancer that forms in the breast cells. Breast cancer can attack both men and women, although it’s more prevalent in women. Public support for breast cancer awareness and funding in Kenya and globally has greatly helped improved its diagnosis and treatment. Deaths attributed to breast cancer have been managed although it remains a challenge due to the high cost of treatment.
Unlike ovarian cancer, breast cancer symptoms are direct and cannot be confused with other conditions. They include:
- Lump of the breast or thickening that has a different feeling from the surrounding tissues,
- Change in shape or size of the breast,
- Bloody discharge through the nipple,
- Changes to the skin of the breast,
- Peeling, scaling of the nipple or breast skin,
- Inverted nipple, and
- Redness or pitting of the skin of the breast like the skin of an orange.
It is caused by abnormal growth of breast cells, which divide abnormally and do not die but accumulate forming a tumor/lump/mass. The cells may spread through the breast or lymph nodes or other body parts. Normally breast cancer starts with cells in the milk producing ducts or in the glandular tissues or in other cells within the breast. What causes this abnormal growth of the breast cells is however unknown.
There are certain identified risks for breast cancer even though it is not yet clear why some people without these risks develop breast cancer while others with these risks never get cancer. This means that there is a possibility that breast cancer can result from a complex interaction of an individual’s genes and the environment. Risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Inherited breast cancer: a considerable proportion of breast cancer is believed to be linked to gene mutations inherited through generations of a family. The inherited mutated genes causing breast cancer include breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2) which are both risk factors for ovarian and breast cancer. If you have a family history with breast cancer or other form of cancers, you may need to do a blood test to establish mutations in breast cancer genes or other genes running through the family.
- Being a female,
- Having your first child at an older age,
- Having menstrual periods at a tender age,
- Menopause onset at an older age,
- Having a post menopausal therapy,
- Never being pregnant,
- Exposure to radiation,
- Increasing age,
- Alcohol drinking and
- A family history with breast cancer.
Tests and diagnosis
Breast cancer can be diagnosed through:
- Breast examination: where the doctor checks both of your breasts by feeling for lumps or any other unusual signs.
- Mammogram: this is simply an x-ray of the breast, used to screen for breast cancer.
- Breast ultrasound: ultra sound utilizes sound waves to produce images of structures inside the body. An ultrasound of the breasts helps differentiate solid mass from fluid filled cyst.
- Biopsy: this is the removal of breast cells for testing through surgery. Samples are analyzed to determine whether the cells are cancerous, the type of cells involved in causing breast cancer, the aggressiveness of the cancer and whether the cells have hormone receptors or other receptors that may determine treatment options.
- Breast Magnetic resonance Imaging (MRI): this is a machine that uses radio waves and a magnet to create pictures of the inside of the body.
The stage of breast cancer can be determined through surgery (biopsy process). Breast cancer starts from 0 to IV with 0 indicating mild while IV indicates cancer that has spread to other body parts.
Treatment and drugs
Breast cancer treatment depends on the stage of the cancer among other factors that the doctor may perceive critical. Normally treatment involves breast surgery. Surgery includes:
- Lympectomy: this involves the removal of the breast cancer or tumor and a small portion of the neighboring healthy tissues. It is usually done for small tumors.
- Mastectomy: this involves the removal of the entire breast. All the breast tissues are removed.
- Removing both breasts: this involves the removal of both breasts including the healthy one if one is at an increased risk of having breast cancer on the other breast.
- Removal of lymph nodes: lymph nodes receiving drainage from the tumor are removed.
Other common treatments include; radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy as well as treatment drugs can be used.
It is good to discuss with your doctor on the available treatments and their effectiveness and effects. Breast cancer just like other forms of cancer is agonizing and patients need support and care.