FAQs On Breast Cancer

What Is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is uncontrolled, unregulated growth of abnormal cells. It can happen in any organ of the body. These cells can form a mass of tissue called as tumour and can also spread to other organs of the body.

When such a tumour, develops in the breast, it is called as breast cancer. Depending on the extent of spread, breast cancer is staged from Stage 0 (Pre-Cancer Condition) to stage IV (Metastatic).

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Around 5 – 10% of breast cancers are hereditary which means the cancer is caused due to known gene defects like BRACA 1, BRACA 2, etc. For remaining breast cancers, the cause is not clear but certain risk factors are identified.

The female gender in itself is a risk factor, older ladies are at higher risk. Also, ladies who have started menstruating at a younger age and attain menopause at an older age are at increased risk. Ladies with no pregnancies or delayed pregnancies, after the age of 35 years are at higher risk.

Alcohol abuse, hormone replacement therapy as well as putting on weight after menopause are known risk factors.

However, it is still unclear why few people who have no risk factors still develop cancer, while not all people with the above-mentioned risk factors never develop cancer.

What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?

There are a few non-modifiable risk factors like female gender, age, family history of breast cancer. We have no control over them.

Lifestyle modifications, like maintaining the ideal body weight and avoiding alcohol may reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Early detection of breast cancer through clinical examination and screening mammograms provide the best means of detecting breast cancer at an early stage so that it can be cured. Females with family history of breast cancer should seek oncologist advice.

What Are the Treatment Options for Breast Cancer?

There are four main treatment methods for breast cancer. These methods are used in combination. The treatment plan depends upon the type and stage of cancer, the general condition of the patient and the available facilities.

  • Surgery – from biopsy to breast conservation to removal of entire breast and addressing the nodal spread in the underarm region
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Hormonal therapy
How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually done by triple assessment

  • Clinical examination of the breast by a doctor is essential
  • Imaging – Mammography, sono-mammography or MRI as per recommendation by the doctor.
  • Tissue Biopsy – A true cut biopsy is where a needle is used to obtain a part of the breast tumor and is more precise than FNAC, where only a few cells from tumor tissue can be observed.

All three steps are essential and have to be followed in the same order.

What Are the Early Signs of Breast Cancer?

Some of the warning signs of breast cancer include

  • A change in size or shape of the breast.
  • Discharge from nipple
  • A painless swelling or lump in the breast or in underarm areas.
  • Thickening or wrinkling of skin of the breast or ulceration on the nipple and areola.

Some of these symptoms are also seen in diseases that aren’t cancer, so consulting your health care provider is advised.

What Are the Stages of Breast Cancer?

From the patient point of view, for the ease of understanding, breast cancer is divided into :

  • Early breast cancer
  • Locally advanced breast cancer
  • Metastatic breast cancer

There are various other complex staging systems, used by the doctors.