Breast cancer is the commonest cancer of women in the world. It can happen to anybody, young or old, married or single. One in 5 women is at the risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime in USA. In India the incidence is slightly lower but it is increasing.
A lot of research is being done to find the cause and cure of breast cancer. Cause of breast cancer is still unknown. Certain cancer genes have been identified that run in families or can occur newly by mutation in women without any family gene. Tests are available to detect such a gene so that extra precautions can be taken to detect cancer early in women with such genes. Since the advances in plastic surgery have made it possible to create attractive new breasts, women who are genetically at high risk can go for removal of breasts and reconstruction.
Prevention gives the best chance of cure. You can beat the cancer by being cautious and detecting it early. Remember cancer starts as a painless lump in the breast and you have the best chance of detecting it yourself.
Breast self examination ( BSE)
* Stand in front of a mirror with top exposed.
* Place hands on hips.
* Look for signs of dimpling, swelling, soreness, or redness in all parts of your breasts in the mirror.
* Repeat with arms raised above your head.
* While still standing, palpate your breasts with your fingers, feeling for lumps. Try to use a larger area of your fingers rather than prodding. Feel both for the area just beneath the skin and for the tissue deeper within.
* Go over the entire breast while examining. One method is to divide the breast into quadrants and palpate each quadrant carefully. Also examine the “axillary tail” of each breast that extends toward the armpit.
* Repeat palpation while lying down.
* Check the nipples and the area just beneath them. Gently squeeze each nipple to check for any discharge.
Breasts tend to feel different in different parts of menstrual cycle. Therefore BSE should be done 7-10 days after the first day of periods, every month. Once you get the feel of your breasts it will be easy for you to detect any change and you will be able to differentiate normal breast feel from that of a lump.
If you have detected a lump or nodule do not panic, because 8 out of ten times these are harmless. You should go to an expert surgeon for examination. She/he may advise further testing if needed like mammography( breast X ray) and sonography of breast -both of which are painless .Fine needle biopsy may also be needed to get the diagnosis.
If the lump is benign (harmless) it can be left alone or can be removed through small incision. If it is malignant (cancer) and detected early (less than 2 cm size lump) then it is possible to have breast preserving surgery wherein only the lump with surrounding rim of normal breast is removed leaving behind rest of the breast and radiation to the breast. For bigger cancers treatment usually involves total removal of breast and chemotherapy, with or without radiotherapy. Plastic surgical breast reconstruction is commonly done after total removal of breast. If the cancer is detected in early stage, very long survival 20 years or more is known after complete treatment.
After the age of 40 yearly mammography can be done to detect any minute cancer. It is like an X ray and is painless. Early detection not only allows for breast preservation but also increases the chances of cure.