October- Breast Cancer awareness month!

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the India and around the world. As per the reports, one in 28 women is likely to develop breast cancer during her lifetime in India. So, no matter from where you belong or where you live, breast cancer may touch your life.

Early detection has led to improved survival for women of all ages and races.

Breast cancer most commonly begins in the duct cells of the breast and can invade surrounding tissues or spread to other areas of the body. When cancer cells travel to other parts of the body and begin damaging other tissues and organs, the process is called metastasis.

Breast cancer can be:

  • Ductal carcinoma: It is of the most common type and begins in the milk duct.
  • Lobular carcinoma: It starts in the lobules.

Symptoms of the breast cancer

  • Area of thickened tissue in the breast, or a lump in the breast or armpit.
  • A rash around or on one of the nipples.
  • Vague pain in the breast that doesn’t change with the monthly cycle.
  • Redness on the skin of the breast.
  • A change in shape or size of the breast.
  • Scaling of the skin on the breast or nipple.

Since, October is the Breast Cancer Awareness month! So, have you self examined your breasts? Have you got your mammogram done? Here are the screening recommendations.

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.

Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.

How to treat breast cancer?
Your treating physician decides what are the best options for you. It depends on the size and stage of cancer at initial diagnosis. On a suspicion of cancer or to rule out same, you will be advised a `fine needle aspiration (some call it biopsy) cytology where a few cells are sucked out by a thin injection needle by a pathologist (doctor trained in lab medicine) and examined by the pathologist under the microscope. Depending upon the results of this test, future treatment shall be decided. A surgery is usually the first step to remove the tumor. Extensiveness of the surgery will again depend on the size of the tumor. The tissue removed is again sent to a pathologists who further can confirm the cancer, type and grade it. She/he also does a test called ER, PR, Her2Neu test on the tissue received. This will provide information of the hormone responsiveness of the tumor and help to choose the drugs required for treatment.

The patient may need systemic therapies which can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body. Chemotherapy, Hormone therapy and Targeted therapy ( decided on lab test on tissue provided by pathologist) are examples of these.

Who can treat it?
You will be treated under a team of doctor each of which will contribute to success of your treatment.
-Pathologist who will confirm, type and grade your cancer. This will guide the treating doctors on treatment modalities. You also need the pathologist to check your blood counts for side effects of chemotherapy and to diagnose a recurrence anywhere.

  • A breast surgeon or surgical oncologist will do the primary surgery with removal of cancer tumor.
  • A radiation oncologist, in case radiation required.
  • A medical oncologist who will prescribe the drugs and chemotherapy.
  • A plastic surgeon who will look into cosmetic aspects of the surgery as well as further reconstruction of the breast tissue.