The breasts are composed of various tissues. These tissues are also connected to a network of lobes. Every lobe contains tiny structures called lobules that contain milk glands. This milk travels from the lobes to the nipples through minute ducts connecting the glands, lobules, and lobes.
The nipple area is located in the middle of the areola (the darker area around the nipple). Along with milk glands, the breasts also contain blood vessels to nourish the cells. Breast cancer develops in these cells. The condition occurs when the normal cells begin to divide abruptly creating a tumour or mass in the breast. Due to a vast network of blood vessels in the area, it spreads quickly to the lymph vessels and other parts of the body.
Today, breast cancer has become the most common type and causes frequent deaths in women. Cancer, however, can develop in both men and women. The recent awareness, early detection, and effective treatment strategies are improving survival rates.
Types of Breast Cancer
Depending on the degree of the tumour, breast cancer is of two types:
- Invasive Breast Cancer: This type of cancer is aggressive and spreads to the surrounding tissues, lymph nodes, and other parts of the body through blood vessels.
- Non-invasive Breast Cancer: This type of cancer is localized and does not spread to the other parts of the body.
The symptoms of breast cancer may vary depending on the patient. The common symptoms are:
- A lump near the breast or in the underarm
- Pain or tenderness in the breast
- Pain or tenderness in the nipple
- Swelling in the armpit
- Change in breast or nipple colour
- Inverted nipple
- Sudden nipple discharge
- Skin irritation in the breast
Breast cancer is caused by:
- Family history
- Previous history of breast cancer
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Poor lifestyle
Breast examination and mammography are the mainstays of diagnosis of breast cancer. The complete diagnosis includes:
- Breast examination: This involves a thorough and minute examination of the breast for any abnormality or change in shape, colour, texture, or presence of lumps, and discharge from the nipples.
- Mammography: This involves an X-ray test to evaluate precancerous and cancerous growth in the breasts.
- Imaging tests: Various tests such as X-rays, CT scan, or MRI confirms the appearance of cancer.
- Biopsy: Biopsy is the final test to confirm cancer. A small tissue from the breast is extracted and examined for the presence of cancer cells.
The treatment of cancer depends on the size, location, type, and age of the patient. The treatment in- involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.
- Surgery: Surgery involves the removal of the tumour (lumpectomy) or the entire breast (mastectomy). The doctor may also remove surrounding lymph nodes or healthy tissues. Following this surgery, the doctor may also perform breast reconstruction surgery to correct the shape, size, and appearance of the breasts.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy involves high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells in the breasts or control their growth.
- Chemotherapy: Anti-cancer drugs are administered to the patient to kill cancer cells. This can either be administered before or after the surgery or as a part of palliative care.
- Hormone therapy: This therapy is started for cancers that depend on hormones for their growth. The therapy lowers or blocks the effect of these hormones.
- Targeted therapy: In this therapy, the cancer-specific cells, genes, or proteins are targeted to control cancerous growth.