Breast Cancer

Causes of Breast Cancer

The exact causes of breast cancer are not known. However, studies show that the risk of breast cancer increases as a woman gets older. This disease is very uncommon in women under the age of 35. Most breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50, and the risk is especially high for women over age 60.

Detection of Breast Cancer

Women can take an active part in the early detection of breast cancer by having regularly scheduled health screenings or screening mammograms and clinical breast exams (breast exams performed by health professionals). Women should also perform breast self-exams on a monthly basis after their menses.

A screening mammogram is the best tool available for finding breast cancer early, before symptoms appear. A mammogram is a special kind of x-ray. Screening mammograms are used to look for breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer.

Mammograms can often detect a breast lump before it can be felt. Also, a mammogram can show small deposits of calcium in the breast. If an area of the breast looks suspicious on the mammogram, the doctor may advise the woman to have a biopsy. Although mammograms are the best way to find breast abnormalities early, they do have some limitations. A mammogram may miss some cancers that are present (false negative) or may find things that turn out not to be cancer (false positive).

Methods for Treating Breast Cancer

Breast cancer may be treated with local or systemic therapy. Some patients have both kinds of treatment.

They are used to treat the disease in the breast. When breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, local therapy may be used to control cancer in those specific areas, such as in the lung or bone.

Some patients have systemic therapy to shrink the tumor before local therapy. Others have systemic therapy to prevent the cancer from coming back, or to treat cancer that has spread

Breast Cancer Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer, and there are several types of surgery. The gynae can explain each type, discuss and compare their benefits and risks, and describe how each will affect the patient's appearance.

  • Total mastectomy : In total (simple) mastectomy, the surgeon removes the whole breast. Some lymph nodes under the arm may also be removed.
  • Breast Self Examination (BSE): From the age of 20, women should do a breast self examination (BSE) once a month. The purpose of doing a BSE is to get yourself accustomed to the feel of your own breast tissue. In the process, you will then be able to detect any anomalies or changes. The most appropriate time for a BSE is anywhere from 2 to 10 days after the start of menses, when your breasts are the least tender. If you are no longer menstruating, do your BSE every month on the same day. (In fact, if you are over 40, you should do a mammogram regularly.)

There are 3 parts to doing your BSE

1. Look for changes in the mirror standing up – you should do it in profile, and also facing them mirror. Do it in 3 different positions:

  • With your hands behind your head.
  • With your hands hanging by your side.
  • Bending forward.

2. Feel for any changes while you are lying down.

3. Feel for changes when you are in the shower You should be examining your actual breasts, and the area around it.

You should also check the area between the breast and your armpit, the armpit itself, and the area above your breasts up to your collarbone.

When examining yourself, use 3 fingers (your second, middle and ring fingers) to press against your flesh.

What should you be looking for in a BSE?

  • A lump that doesn’t go away, i.e. a persistent lump.
  • A change in size or shape of either breast.
  • Any unusual skin discoloration.
  • Any sores or scaly skin.
  • A puckering of the skin, which appears as many small dimples, like orange or lemon peel.
  • A retraction or sinking in of the nipple.
  • Any liquid discharge from the nipple.

If you detect any of these in a BSE, you should consult your doctor, so he can conduct a clinical breast examination (CBE). At your consultation, your relevant medical and family history will be reviewed. This will help your doctor determine if the change is normal, or if a second review or tests are necessary.

If found early enough, almost 95% of all cases of breast cancer can be cured. That's why the BSE is so important. ANYTHING you can do to help you find something early will greatly increase your chances of getting rid of the cancer.

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