Breast Cancer for Beginners
By Suresh Gupta
Because of the social changes, which has brought increased number of workingwoman and hence delayed childbearing,
there has been a steep rise in the number of breast cancer patients in the last few decades. But as the incidence
of the patients has risen so has raised the modality of treatments and the success rates. Also scientists have
devised methods by which the cancer can be detected in an early stage and it has been convincingly proved that
early detection and treatment bears a better prognosis than the later stage.
There are many myths attached to breast cancer. Some think that any lump in breast is a breast cancer but to the
contrary most of them are benign. Similarly it was a popular belief earlier that breast-feeding decreases one’s
risk of the cancer but that has been now found to be untrue. Some say that mammography makes the breast cancer
widespread but it’s not true. Similarly there are many other myths, which need to be cleared in mind of the general
mass for the proper detection and management of the tumor.
Breast cancer can be detected in an early stage if women are taught to self-examine their breast. In case of
detection of any breast lump or of any slightest suspicion, mammography should be done to rule out any tumor.
Mammography is a good tool to diagnose this type of cancer.
The incidence of breast cancer is increasing at an alarming rate. It is said that every 2-3 minutes one American
woman is diagnosed a breast cancer.
Although the cause is not fully understood but it is hypothesized that there are various factors such as genetic
and environmental. The environmental factors are increased age, obesity, smoking and having the first child at late
The findings that denote a cancer are single, non-tender and firm to hard mass with ill-defined margins. This can
be later confirmed by mammography and biopsy. After the cancer has been diagnosed staging is done to find out the
best treatment option as well as the prognosis.
The management of breast cancer rests basically on two things. The first is the treatment and second is the
counseling. The treatment can further be divided into three: medical, radiation, and surgery. The medical treatment
consists of drugs such as tamoxifen, which is an anti estrogen, aromatase inhibitors such as aminoglutethimide and
monoclonal antibodies such as trastuzumab. But similar to other drugs they have their own side effects profile. The
side effects associated with tamoxifen are increased vaginal bleeding, endometrial cancer and cataracts. The
aromatase inhibitors have the side effects of leg cramps, jaundice and weight gain while the monoclonal antibodies
may cause sterility or certain birth abnormalities. Generally the radiation and surgery are the modalities, which
are needed for the treatment to ward off the body of the cancerous growth.
This is one of the most important parts of the treatment both before and after the surgery. The patients are to be
taught that this is only another disease, which has treatment available, and persons can lead a normal life after
Latest research is being done on both the surgery and the medicine. For the surgery, surgeons are trying to find
out the best way of surgery so that post surgery the patients have minimal disabilities. Similar medicines with
lesser side effects are being researched.
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