The body is made up of billions of tiny cells, which usually grow and multiply in an orderly way. New cells are only produced when and where they're needed. In cancer, this orderly process goes wrong and cells begin to grow and multiply uncontrollably.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it's far more common in women. Cancer is a diseases characterized by abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body.It starts in the cells of the breast as a group of cancer cell that can invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. If it's treated early enough, breast cancer can be prevented from spreading to other parts of the body.
What are the causes and risk factory of breast cancer?
The causes of breast cancer aren't fully understood, making it difficult to say why one woman may develop breast cancer and another may not. However, there are risk factors that affect your likelihood of developing breast cancer.Some of these you can't do anything about, but there are some you can change:
- Age: The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. About 8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50, who have been through the menopause.
- Family history: Most cases of breast cancer aren't hereditary (they don't run in families), but particular genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase your risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer. It's possible for these genes to be passed on from a parent to their child.
- Previous diagnosis of breast cancer: If you've previously had breast cancer or early non-invasive cancer cell changes in breast ducts, you have a higher risk of developing it again, either in same or other breast.
- Breast density: Your breasts are made up of thousands of tiny glands (lobules), which produce milk. Women with dense breast tissue may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer because there are more cells that can become cancerous.
- Exposure to estrogen: The female hormone, estrogen, can sometimes stimulate breast cancer cells and cause them to grow. The ovaries begin to produce estrogen when you start puberty, to regulate your periods. Starting menstruation (periods) before age 12 and going through menopause after age 55: the increase in risk may be due to a longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
- Being overweight or obese: After menopause (when the ovaries stop making estrogen), most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can raise estrogen levels and increase your chance of getting breast cancer.
- Being tall: If you're taller than average, you're more likely to develop breast cancer than someone who's shorter than average.
- Radiation: Certain medical procedures that use radiation, such as X-rays and CTscans, may slightly increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
Breast cancer can have a number of symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue. Most breast lumps aren't cancerous, but it's always best to have them checked by your doctor.You should also see your GP if you notice any of the following:
- A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- Discharge from either of your nipples (which may be streaked with blood)
- A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- A rash on or around your nipple
- A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
Breast pain isn't usually a symptom of breast cancer.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
Your GP will examine you, if they think your symptoms need further assessment, they'll refer you to a specialist breast cancer clinic.
- Mammogram that can spot cancers when they are too small to see or feel.
- Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your breasts, showing any lumps or abnormalities. Your doctor may also suggest a breast ultrasound if they need to know whether a lump in your breast is solid or contains liquid.
- Needle biopsy is the most common type of biopsy. A sample of tissue is taken from a lump in your breast using a large needle. You'll have a local anesthetic, which means you'll be awake during the procedure, but your breast will be numb.
What are the treatments of breast cancer?
If you have cancer you should be assigned a multidisciplinary team (MDT) – a team of specialists who work together to provide the best treatment and care.The main treatments for breast cancer are:
- Surgery is usually the first type of treatment for breast cancer. Usually followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy or, in some cases, hormone or biological treatments.
There are two main types of breast cancer surgery. They are:
- Surgery to remove the cancerous lump (tumor), known as breast-conserving surgery.
- Surgery to remove the whole breast, which is called a mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery to create breast.
- Radiotherapy uses controlled doses of radiation to kill cancer cells.If you need radiotherapy, your treatment will begin about a month after your surgery or chemotherapy, to give your body a chance to recover. You'll probably have radiotherapy sessions three to five days a week, for three to six weeks. Each session will only last a few minutes.
The type of radiotherapy you have will depend on your cancer and surgery type. Some women may not need to have radiotherapy at all. The types available are:
- Breast radiotherapy : after breast-conserving surgery, radiation is applied to the whole of the remaining breast tissue.
- Chest wall radiotherapy : after a mastectomy, radiotherapy is applied to the chest wall.
- Breast boost – some women may be offered a boost of high-dose radiotherapy in the area where the cancer was removed; however, the boost may affect the appearance of the breast, particularly if you have large breasts, and can sometimes have other side effects, including hardening of the breast tissue (fibrosis).
- Radiotherapy to the lymph nodes : where radiotherapy is aimed at the armpit and the surrounding area to kill any cancer that may be present in the lymph nodes.
- Chemotherapy involves using anti-cancer (cytotoxic) medication to kill the cancer cells. It's usually used after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that haven't been removed. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
In some cases, you may have chemotherapy before surgery, which is often used to shrink a large tumor. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
Several different medications are used for chemotherapy and three are often given at once. The choice of medication and the combination will depend on the type of breast cancer you have and how much it's spread.
- Hormone therapy works by lowering the levels of hormones in your body or by stopping their effects. The type of hormone therapy you'll have depend on the stage and grade of your cancer, which hormone it's sensitive to your age, whether you've experienced the menopause and what other type of treatment you're having.
- Biological therapy (targeted therapy) works by stopping the effects of HER2 and by helping your immune system to fight off cancer cells.
You may have one of these treatments or a combination. The type or combination of treatments you have will depend on the stage of cancer.
How to prevent breast cancer?
Lifestyle changes have been shown in studies to decrease breast cancer risk even in high-risk women. you can take the following steps to lower your risk:
- Don't smoke: Accumulating evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women. In addition, not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
- Control your weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
- Be physically active: Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which in turn helps prevent breast cancer. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
- Breast-feed: Breast-feeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.
- Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy: Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer. If you're taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options. You might be able to manage your symptoms with no hormonal therapies and medications. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose that works for you and continue to have your doctor monitor the length of time you are taking hormones.
- Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution: Medical-imaging methods, such as computerized tomography, use high doses of radiation. While more studies are needed, some research suggests a link between breast cancer and radiation exposure. Reduce your exposure by having such tests only when absolutely necessary.
Does my Insurance Policy cover Breast Cancer treatment?
Yes. According to CCHI unified Policy terms and conditions, health insurance policies in Saudi Arabia cover the treatment of breast cancer.Please Click Here to access the Unified CCHI Policy Wordings.
References:"Breast Cancer." Breast Cancer (female) - Living with. N.p., Aug. 2014. Web. Sept. 2016.
"Breast Cancer" Rules. N.p., n.d. Web. Aug. 2016.