Breast Cancer

close up of women with cancer awareness ribbons

A closer look at cancer-related deaths among women reveals that lung and bronchus cancer top the list; breast cancer is second. For some women, breast cancer—not lung cancer or heart disease—is the disease that they fear most, and stories about breast cancer abound in consumer magazines for all ages.The outlook for women with breast cancer is improving constantly. Due to increased awareness, opportunities for early detection, and treatment advances, survival rates continue to climb. In the U.S., October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the campaign is designed to increase breast cancer awareness. There are many organizations that support Breast Cancer Awareness Month and provide assistance within early detection plans. Organizations also put together breast cancer fundraisers such as walks and events that support breast cancer research and help fund patients with socio-economic disadvantages.

Smoking tobacco appears to increase the risk of breast cancer, with the greater the amount smoked and the earlier in life that smoking began, the higher the risk. In those who are long-term smokers, the risk is increased 35% to 50%.There is an association between use of hormonal birth control and the development of premenopausal breast cancer,but whether oral contraceptives use may actually cause premenopausal breast cancer is a matter of debate. If there is indeed a link, the absolute effect is small.Additionally, it is not clear if the association exists with newer hormonal birth controls.In those with mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 , or who have a family history of breast cancer, use of modern oral contraceptives does not appear to affect the risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer also may be caused by environmental exposure. Sunlight can cause DNA damage that leads to breast cancer through ultraviolet radiation. So can air pollutants like soot, wood dust, asbestos, and arsenic, to name just a few.

Doctors continue to search for more effective and tolerable treatments for breast cancer. The funding for this research comes from many sources, including advocacy groups throughout the country. Many of the 2.5 million breast cancer survivors and their families choose to participate in walk-a-thons and other fundraising events. This links each individual fight against cancer into a common effort for progress.

Most types of breast cancer are easy to diagnose by microscopic analysis of a sample—or biopsy—of the affected area of the breast. Also, there are types of breast cancer that require specialized lab exams.

The two most commonly used screening methods, physical examination of the breasts by a healthcare provider and mammography, can offer an approximate likelihood that a lump is cancer, and may also detect some other lesions, such as a simple cyst.When these examinations are inconclusive, a healthcare provider can remove a sample of the fluid in the lump for microscopic analysis (a procedure known as fine needle aspiration, or fine needle aspiration and cytology—FNAC) to help establish the diagnosis. The needle aspiration may be performed in a healthcare provider’s office or clinic using local anaesthetic if required. A finding of clear fluid makes the lump highly unlikely to be cancerous, but bloody fluid may be sent off for inspection under a microscope for cancerous cells. Together, physical examination of the breasts, mammography, and FNAC can be used to diagnose breast cancer with a good degree of accuracy.

Other options for biopsy include a core biopsy or vacuum-assisted breast biopsy ,which are procedures in which a section of the breast lump is removed; or an excisional biopsy, in which the entire lump is removed. Very often the results of physical examination by a healthcare provider, mammography, and additional tests that may be performed in special circumstances (such as imaging by ultrasound or MRI) are sufficient to warrant excisional biopsy as the definitive diagnostic and primary treatment method.

You’re likely to have chemotherapy before surgery if you have a large or locally advanced tumour, or you have a type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer.

Chemotherapy before surgery is called neo adjuvant therapy. The aims are to:

  • reduce the size of the tumour – this can mean having less surgery, for example you may be able to have just the tumour removed (a lumpectomy) instead of the whole breast (mastectomy)

  • lower the risk of the cancer coming back

  • Doctors use chemotherapy after surgery when there is a risk that cancer cells could have broken away from the breast tumour and spread to another part of the body.

    The aim is to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

    Your specialist may recommend it for one or more of the following reasons:

    • the lymph nodes under your arm contained breast cancer cells

    • you had a large tumour in your breast

    • the breast cancer cells were high grade (grade 3)

    • the cancer cells did not have hormone receptors and so you are not likely to benefit from hormone therapy

    Chemotherapy after surgery is called adjuvant therapy.

  • Doctors have begun treating women suffering from breast cancer with a procedure known as cryoablation.The treatment freezes, than defrosts tumors using small needles so that only the harmful tissue is damaged and ultimately dies.The advantage of this technique includes alternative to surgery, limiting hospital visits and reducing scarring.

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