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Early detection essential for treating breast cancer

Breast cancer today is the most common cancer among urban women in India. However, if detected early, the disease is treatable and to increase awareness about it, October is marked as the Breast Cancer Awareness Month across the world. Here are a few things you need to know about the condition:

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a medical condition when normal cells in the breast change and grow out of control to form an enlarging lump. These abnormal cells then grow and invade healthy areas of the breast. In later stages, the tumor cells can spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit and also to other parts of the body.

What causes breast cancer to develop?

Generally, there is no one factor that causes breast cancer. But, certain risk factors, such as old age, being overweight or obese, alcohol use, exposure to radiation, hormonal therapy, early menarche, late menopause and a family history of the disease, increase the chances of its incidence. About 5 to 10% of breast cancers may be linked to genetic mutations such as BRCA1 and 2.

What are its symptoms?

Apart from the occurrence of an unusual lump or thickening in the breast, redness or pitting of the breast skin, nipple discharge, nipple inversion, scaling or crusting of the skin surrounding the nipple, are its symptoms. Pain in the breasts is generally not a symptom of breast cancer.

Can breast cancer be prevented?

The risk of breast cancer can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, diet, refraining from alcohol use and exercising for at least 30 minutes every day. Some women with high risk precancerous breast conditions may be advised medications to block the action of the hormone estrogen on the breast.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?

The medical condition can be detected through the incidence of a lump or other change in the breast or armpit by selfexamination or by a physician. If a breast lump is found, a mammogram and a breast ultrasound are usually performed. A biopsy is conducted only when the mammogram or ultrasound hints at cancer.

What are its treatments?

Most people with breast cancer will require one or more of the following forms of treatment depending on the stage of breast cancer Surgery: Either mastectomy, which involves removing the entire breast, or breast conserving surgery. Breast conserving surgery removes just the cancerous area and a small amount normal tissue from the surrounding area.

Radiation therapy:

Radiation is given to patients with lymph nodal involvement and to those who are undergoing breast conserving surgery.

Chemotherapy:

Some patients require medicines before surgery to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove while others need after surgery to prevent the spread or recurrence of the tumour.

Hormone therapy:

Some form of cancers grows in response to estrogen and progesterone, and medications are given to block the action of these hormones. It is best to consult an expert if you find a lump or any other change in your breast, as early detection is the key to successful treatment. Fortunately, treatment outcomes for patients with breast cancer is improving with good survival rates, largely due to advances in treatment modalities and a better understanding of the disease.

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