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Breast Cancer

What is Breast Cancer?

A woman’s breasts are made of specialised tissues supplied by blood vessels, lymph nodes and nerves. Breast cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the breast. This mass of abnormal tissue is called a tumour. Breast cancer can develop in both men and women, although female breast cancer is more common. One in eight women develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Breast cancers can be benign (non-cancerous growth of cells) or malignant (cancerous and can spread to other parts of the body). Over a period, the malignant tumour cells can invade the nearby healthy tissues such as the axillary lymph nodes (found in the underarm) and slowly move to other parts of the body. 

What are the Causes?

Cancer occurs due to mutations or changes in the genes responsible for regulating the normal growth of cells and keeping them in a healthy condition. These mutated genes may be inherited from parents, or may result from external influences of radiation or cancer-causing chemicals, or wear and tear during the aging process. Hormones also play a major role in the development of breast cancer. Eighty percent of patients with breast cancer have no significant family history.

There are many other factors that could increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Some of these factors include:

  • Risk Increases with age
  • Being a woman
  • Family or previous history of breast cancer
  • A history of ADH, DCIS or LCIS
  • BRCA 1 or 2 positive
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Early menstruation (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55)
  • Use of birth control pills
  • Use of HRT
  • Heavy smoking and alcohol consumption
  • Being overweight or obese

What are the Symptoms of Breast cancer?

Initially, breast cancer may or may not cause any symptoms. The first sign of cancer can be a lump or mass in the breast. The lump is usually painless and hard, with an uneven edge, but may be tender and soft at times. Any unusual signs such as swelling of the breast, skin irritation, pain in the breast or nipple, nipple turning inwards, redness or thickening of nipple or breast skin, nipple discharge, or lump in the underarm area may indicate breast cancer.

How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

  • Mammography: A skilled technician places and compresses your breast between 2 plates attached to a highly specialized camera. The camera takes 2 pictures of the breast from different directions. The breast is compressed to reduce its thickness to obtain a clear X-ray image.
  • Ultrasound scan: High frequency sound waves are emitted onto your breast and converted into images of the breast tissue.
  • Biopsy: A small sample of breast tissue is removed from the area of concern and examined under a microscope to ascertain whether it is cancerous tissue and to determine the characteristics of the cancerous tissue.

The early detection of cancer makes treatment easier and more successful.

If You Are Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

When you have been diagnosed Dr Fosh will arrange "Staging Scans". These normally include a CT Scan and a Bone Scan

You will then have another appointment with Dr Fosh to discuss these results, and the different treatment options available to you.

How is Breast Cancer Treated?

Dr Fosh will plan your treatment based on the size and stage of cancer. Treatment will not only target and destroy the cancer cells, but to also try to ensure that it does not recur. Your doctor may follow a sequence of treatments including:

  • Surgery:  These include the removal of the tumour and a small margin of healthy tissue, the entire breast tissue and sometimes, even the neighbouring lymph nodes. After the removal, your breast can also be reconstructed in an immediate or later procedure.
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment includes the administration of medicine through the bloodstream to weaken and destroy the cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy may be given after surgery, to kill any cancer cells that have been left behind in the body or before surgery (neoadjuvant).
  • Radiation therapy: In this therapy, high-energy radiations are used to destroy cancer cells. This is a highly targeted and effective way to destroy breast cancer cells. This therapy is easy to tolerate and the side effects are limited to only the treated area. It also prevents the recurrence of breast cancer.
  • Hormonal therapy:  These medications help to shrink or slow the growth of cancer cells by lowering the levels or blocking the action of the oestrogen and progesterone hormone on the cancer cells.