What is cancer?
Cancer occurs when normal healthy cells lose the ability to control their growth and keep multiplying. These abnormal cells join together to form a growth or tumour, and this invades and destroys the surrounding tissues. Cancers are curable only if detected early. Cancer which has spread is generally incurable.
Breast cancer is now second leading cause of cancer deaths in women today (after lung cancer) and is the most common cancer among women, excluding nonmelanoma skin cancers. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year worldwide. It is the most frequent cancer among females and there is a clear increase in incidence over time.
There have now been documented several risk factors the most important of which are as follows:
1. A previous personal history of breast cancer
2. A family history especially that involving a first degree relative ie. Mother, sister, daughter
3. Women over 35 years of age
4. Women who have early menstruation or late menopause
5. Women who have their first child after the age of 30 or are childless
6. Others including certain benign breast diseases such as proliferative breast disease with or without atypical features
7. Smoking and a diet high in saturated fats
Common Symptoms and Signs
The most common symptoms and signs of breast cancer are:
1. A painless breast lump or a lump in the armpit
2. Bleeding or discharge from the nipple
3. A change in the colour or feel of the skin of the breast or nipple, for example dimpling or puckering, or a rash
4. A change in the size or shape of the breast
Breast Cancer Screening
Screening for breast cancer is now quite established. Current recommendations by various organizations include the following:
1. Self breast examination every month - you can be taught how to do this by your general practitioner or any physician
2. A clinical breast examination by a medical practitioner every 4 months
3. Regular mammography with or without a breast ultrasound beginning at age 40-50. This should be performed yearly if you are over the age of 50. If you are younger than 50, you should have yearly examinations if there is a family history of breast cancer, and this should commence 5-10 years before the earliest case of cancer in the family
If a suspicious lesion is found on examination, the doctor may proceed to perform a biopsy either using a needle to remove some cells from the lump, or the doctor may need to perform a small operation to remove part of or the entire lump for further histological tests.
What happens if Breast Cancer is diagnosed?