Breast cancer is a condition wherein the breast cells grow abnormally and a tumour is formed. The breasts consist of three parts: ducts, lobules and connective tissues. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts and lobules.
Statistics show that breast cancer is the most common cancer in Indian women. Awareness and regular screening can help in detecting breast cancer in its earlier stages when the disease can be treated with positive outcomes.
The five-year survival rate for breast cancers at HCG stands at 86.9%, which is the highest in India. A case study published in Harvard Business Review has reported that HCG’s five-year survival rates for breast cancer cases are on par with the global standards.
Breast cancers are categorised based on multiple factors, namely the location of the tumour, the degree of spread, the presence of hormone receptors and aggressiveness. Two broad categories of breast cancer are:
1. Invasive Breast Cancer: The type of breast cancer that has spread to surrounding tissues, lymph nodes and other parts of the body through the bloodstream. Major types are invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) and invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which again has subtypes based on the characteristics of the tumour.
2. Non-Invasive Breast Cancer: The type of breast cancer that is localised and has not spread to other parts of the body. Major types include ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS).
Types of breast cancers classified based on their aggressiveness are:
1. Triple-negative Breast Cancer: A type of aggressive breast cancer where the tumour lacks the receptors for oestrogen and progesterone and additional HER2 proteins on its surface. These tumours grow quickly and spread to other body parts at a faster rate.
2. Inflammatory Breast Cancer: Instead of tumour formation, inflammatory breast cancer is characterised by reddening and swelling of the breast along with a tendency to spread quickly.
Male breast cancers are rare. Inheritance of the mutated BRCA2 gene is found to increase the risk of breast cancer in men. Risk factors and symptoms for men are similar to those for women.
Other rare forms of breast cancer include Paget’s disease of the breast, angiosarcoma and Phyllodes tumour.
Symptoms of breast cancer vary from person to person. Below are the common symptoms of breast cancer:
Most breast lumps are not cancerous. However, women should visit a specialist for an examination if they notice a lump on the breast.
The exact cause of breast cancer remains unclear. However, several factors are reported to increase breast cancer risk.
Apart from these, other risk factors include poor lifestyle choices, exposure to radiation and obesity.
Breast cancer screening helps in detecting breast cancer in its earlier stages, leading to a successful clinical outcome. Breast examination and mammography are common procedures for breast cancer screening.
a. Breast Examination (Self/Clinical): Both clinical and self-breast examinations involve careful inspection and palpation of the breasts for any abnormalities in the shape, texture, colour, presence of lumps and discharge from the nipples.
b. Mammography: Mammography uses low-dose X-rays to detect precancerous and cancerous growth in the breasts. It helps in detecting the smallest tumours that are not detected during breast examinations.
c. Imaging Tests: If cancer growth is suspected, the patient may be asked to undergo further tests like breast ultrasound, fine needle aspiration, biopsies, MRI scans and PET/CT scans. The treatment will be planned based on the test results.
d. Biopsy: Biopsy plays a significant role in confirming a cancer diagnosis. For this procedure, a tissue sample from the breast is taken and examined under the microscope for the presence of cancer cells. Different types of biopsies that may be considered for breast cancer diagnosis are fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy, core needle biopsy, surgical (open) biopsy and lymph node biopsy.
HCG has the best breast cancer specialists in India who are trained to treat breast cancers with personalised and result-oriented treatment plans that lead to positive clinical outcomes.
The treatment planning for breast cancer depends on various factors like the tumour’s location, tumour’s size, menstrual factors of the patient, the type of cancer, patient’s age and the general health of the patient. The key treatment modalities include surgery, radiotherapy and systemic therapy. The treatment could be unimodal or multimodal.
a. Surgery: Surgery may be performed to remove just the tumour (lumpectomy) or the entire breast (mastectomy). It may also involve the removal of the lymph nodes and the surrounding tissues.
Most of our surgeries aim for breast conservation and sentinel lymph node biopsy using technetium-99. This reduces morbidity and hospital stay for the patients.
Breast Reconstruction Surgery: Breast reconstruction is a surgical procedure that can be opted by women who have undergone lumpectomy or mastectomy. The surgery helps in restoring one or both breasts to near normal shape, symmetry, size and appearance. Breast reconstruction is done at the same time as a mastectomy or lumpectomy in most cases; however, it can also be done many months or even years after mastectomy or lumpectomy. Breast reconstruction surgery is performed in two ways:
HCG houses experienced and top breast reconstruction surgeons in India who are skilled at restoring the structure of the breasts and in turn boost the sense of wellbeing among breast cancer survivors.
b. Radiation Therapy or Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy employs high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill the cancer cells in the breast or control their growth. Radiation may be delivered externally (external beam radiation therapy), or internally by placing the radiation source in the tumour or next to it (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy).
c. Systemic therapy: Systemic therapies act on the entire body and help in treating the cancerous growths wherever they are located, including the ones that are too small to detect.
Firstly, it is important to know that not all breast lumps are cancerous.
Throughout their normal menstrual cycles, women experience changes in their breast tissue. It is normal for both breasts to feel sore, tender or swollen throughout the cycles. These symptoms often vanish within a few days. As long as they don’t persist, there is nothing to be alarmed about.
A cancerous lump may feel like a hard or firm lump (nodule). It is usually irregular in shape, and it may also feel like it is attached to the tissue deep inside the breast so that it cannot be moved without moving the breast tissues.
There are two common ways to check the breasts for lumps. The first one is the monthly self-breast examination and the second one is the annual mammography. Both these methods are helpful in detecting abnormal growths in their early stages.
Yes, studies have shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing breast cancer.
Yes, both first-hand and second-hand smoking are considered to be risk factors for breast cancers. The harmful chemicals present in tobacco are observed to cause DNA mutations that potentially cause breast cancer.
Quitting tobacco and developing a healthier lifestyle could gradually reduce one’s breast cancer risk.
Yes, hormone replacement therapy is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Apart from this, HRT may also lead to delayed diagnosis by creating dense tissues in the breasts and thereby leading to reduced efficacy of mammography. Therefore, women need to opt for safer alternatives to manage their post-menopausal symptoms.
There are a few ways to reduce your breast cancer risk and they include: