What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer originates in the breast cells when they mutate and grow uncontrollably forming a tumour. Like other cancers, breast cancer cells also grow rapidly and spread to surrounding cells, and lymph nodes leading to metastasis of cancer.
The cause of breast cancer could be anything from radiation exposure, increasing age, family history or lifestyle factors. There are several other factors as well that increase the risk of having breast cancer.
But breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage and can be treated in no time. Many breast cancer treatment options are available in the healthcare field and many women receive treatment at an early stage to live longer.
Let us look further to know more about the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
How common is breast cancer?
Breast cancer has ranked first in the list of most common cancers in women. Millions of women are battling breast cancer in today’s world.
Every four minutes a woman gets diagnosed with breast cancer in India. The numbers are rising so quickly that breast cancer has the highest incidence in India.
But the good news is that the five-year survival rate of breast cancer at stages 0 and 1 is 99%. The five-year survival rate is a statistically measured value that refers to the percentage of people who survive for 5-years or more after the diagnosis of cancer.
Hence there is a 99% chance that a woman who got diagnosed with breast cancer will survive for 5 years or more.
What are the common symptoms of breast cancer?
Some of the most common signs of breast cancer are as follows:
- Lump in the breast or around the underarm –
Having a feeling of a solid lump in the breast or around the underarm that doesn’t seem to go away could be an early sign of breast cancer.
- Swelling or inflammation in a region of the breast –
Swelling in the breast without any injury or wound could be a symptom of swollen lymph nodes due to cancerous cells in the breast.
- Dimpling of breast skin –
Dimpling of skin around the nipple and on the breast is also a common symptom of breast cancer.
- Irritation or redness of breast skin or nipple –
Redness or irritation of breast skin is a characteristic feature of breast cancer. These are some of the common skin changes that occur during breast cancer.
- Flaky skin in the nipple area –
The skin becomes flaky and starts to peel off in the region of the nipple if someone has breast cancer.
It may usually occur in the darker area of the nipple, under the breast or on the side of the breast. It could also occur if the skin is very dry.
- Inward nipple –
The nipple may pull inward during breast cancer but it is not the case in many individuals.
- Pain in the breast or nipple area –
Breast pain is usually common in many women even if it is not because of cancer, but resistant pain in the breast or around the nipple region could be a sign of breast cancer.
- Fluid (other than milk) discharge from the nipple –
Fluid leaking from the nipple even if the woman is not pregnant or breastfeeding could be an early sign of breast cancer. The fluid could be clear, blood or some other colour.
- Variation in shape or size of the breast –
In breast cancer, the breast might look bigger, or the shape of the breast may look different from usual. This variation could be an early symptom of breast cancer.
- Skin changes on breast or nipple –
Skin changes such as skin peeling, itchiness, burning sensation and soreness etc. These types of skin changes can be a result of breast cancer.
These are just some common symptoms of breast cancer; different individuals may have different symptoms. Some women show no symptoms of breast cancer at all.
If you experience anything unusual, immediately consult your doctor.
What is the difference between a normal or cancerous breast?
There is no typical way to define a normal breast. As there are different women in the world, there are different normal breasts.
The only way that can differentiate a normal breast from a cancerous breast is the formation of a tumour in the breast.
Something normal for one woman may not be normal for another. The breast changes with age and other body changes such as having a period, being pregnant, weight change and taking medications.
The best way to be sure about your condition is to consult a doctor. Several diagnostic tests can be used to be sure about your condition. If you have any doubts, contact a specialist.
Diagnostic tests for breast cancer
The doctor may prescribe a test based on the signs of breast cancer in a woman. These tests assist the medical professional to get critical information about the patient’s body and hence they can line up treatment for the patient.
There are several ways to diagnose breast cancer, such as:
A mammogram is the most common way to diagnose breast cancer in women. It uses a special x-ray machine to take images of abnormal growth in the breast. Also, it is like a more detailed x-ray image.
- Breast Ultrasonography
Ultrasonography is a method to take an image of the breast using sound waves. This technique creates an image of breast tissue and helps to check for abnormalities.
- PET Scan
This procedure involves an injection of a special dye into the body of the patient to get an image of the affected area of the breast via a scanner.
Magnetic resonance imaging is a widely used method to obtain a detailed image of the structure of the breast from the inside. It uses radio and magnetic waves to produce a clear image.
A biopsy is one of the most common ways to diagnose any type of cancer. It can be done using a needle to obtain a small piece of tissue from the breast and examine it in the laboratory.
Stage of breast cancer
Staging is a way to describe the growth of the tumour. It helps the doctor to understand how much cancer has spread in the body of the patient. The breast cancer stages are as follows:
- Stage 0 of Breast Cancer
Cancer has not spread, and the size of the tumour is very small.
- Stage 1 of Breast Cancer
The cancer cells have spread to surrounding breast tissues.
- Stage 2 of Breast Cancer
Cancer has spread to lymph nodes and the size of the tumour is somewhere between 2 to 5 centimetres.
- Stage 3 of Breast Cancer
Cancer has spread widely around the area of breast tissues and lymph nodes but no other organs.
- Stage 4 of Breast Cancer
Cancer has spread to other organs such as lungs, kidneys, bones etc.
When to see a doctor?
Apart from regular checkups, contact a specialist when you feel anything unusual or see any changes in your breast area.