Breast Cancer

A tumour can either be benign or malignant, which means that it can be non-cancerous or cancerous. Breast cancers are malignant tumours, and it usually start in the milk ducts. It happens when the milk-producing glands in the breast become irregular and split and divide without control, which then develops into an abnormal glandular structure. It creates an extra tissue that forms a mass or lump.

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 gynaecologist 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).

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.)

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. If found early enough, almost 95% of all cases of breast cancer can be cured.

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