Breast Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention & Diet
Breast cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, and yet in India it takes lives due to delayed diagnosis, treatment and medical care. While it is important to be aware of symptoms, treatment options and care, it is equally important to recognise lifestyle factors that may put you at risk.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer leads to an uncontrollable multiplication of cells commonly in the lobules of the breast, but there is no specific reason behind this phenomenon. Though there are a few risk factors that make a person easily prone to breast cancer.
While breast cancer can also occur in men but it is commonly seen that symptoms of breast cancer are more likely to occur in women.
Age: Age is a risk factor for breast cancer. Research suggests that a 20 year old has 0.06% chances of suffering from breast cancer and it rises up to 3.84% in a 70 years old.
Genetics : Family history plays an important role. If a close family member has suffered from breast cancer, fallopian tube, ovarian or peritoneal cancer in the past, there is a greater risk of getting breast cancer. Also, the people who carry the mutations like BRCA1, BRCA2 and mutations of TP53 gene have a risk of developing breast cancer cells. That is why it is advisable that people whose family or ancestors have a medical history of carrying these mutations undergo genetic testing, and people in general must be well informed about their family's medical history.
Higher levels of estrogen: A woman who might have gotten her period earlier than the average age or who enters the phase of menopause later than the average age has a greater risk of getting breast cancer. Reports suggest that the estrogen levels in women lower drastically after they get pregnant or breastfeed their young ones for over a year.
Body Weight: A person who is overweight or suffers from obesity has higher risk of suffering from breast cancer. Women tend to gain weight after they enter their menopause phase and this also puts them at risk.
Hormonal Treatment & Cosmetic Implants: According to the reports of NCI, people who take oral contraceptives are more at risk of getting breast cancer. Secondly, people who undergo hormonal treatments like estrogen-progesterone are also at higher risk of suffering from breast cancer.
Signs & Symptoms of Breast Cancer
It is important for people, especially women, to keep a check on any lumps or tumor near their breasts or armpits, by performing a self check. Tissue mass or lumps are the first signs of of breast cancer. At an earlier stage, it might be asymptomatic. The other symptoms include:
Lumps: A person can self-examine his or her breasts monthly and if they find any lumps or pebble like structures on their breasts, it might be a symptom of breast cancer. Lumps due to breast cancer can be hard, painless and immovable.
Changes in the nipples: If your nipples are hard, painful or have reddened you might be developing cancer cells. One needs to see a doctor if the nipple appears scaly, thickened or turns inwards. One might also feel itchy around the nipples and notice a discharge other than breast milk. It is advisable to see your doctors annually so that they can have a thorough examination.
Changes in shape: A few early symptoms may include the change in shape of the breasts, also considered as distortion of breasts' shape. The breasts may appear puckered or thickened.
Puckered is a phenomenon in which the skin of the breast appears to be wrinkled or contracted. The thickening may make you feel that your breasts are tightened.
Change in texture: A lot of times the skin on or around the breasts may appear flaky, scaly or dimpled. Dimpling can be recognized by the fact that the skin looks similar to the texture of the orange peel. It is often a symptom of inflammatory breast cancer, a rare but an aggressive type of breast cancer.
Besides these, breast pain, swelling around the lymph nodes, lumps or pain around the armpits is also one of the symptoms.
Treatment for Breast Cancer
There are various options for breast cancer treatment. The treatment depends on the type and extent of spread of the cancer. A patient might need to undergo more than one treatment to treat cancer cells. The various options for treatment include:
Surgery: There are different types of surgeries depending on the size and location of the tumor. In lumpectomy, the tumor and the few surrounding tissues are removed from the breast. In a simple mastectomy, the entire breast is removed whereas in a radical mastectomy the breast along with the tissues of the chest and some part from under the armpit is removed.
Radiation Therapy: In a few cases, doctors use radiation in order to kill the cancer cells or stop them from growing. In external beam radiation, a machine is used from outside to aim at the cancer cells. In internal radiation therapy, a substance is placed inside the breast where the tumor is placed and that substance gives off the radiation.
Chemotherapy: Under this treatment, the doctors use various drugs to treat cancer and it might kill all the cancer cells spread across the body or can be aimed to treat the cancer for a specific area only.
Hormone Therapy: Hormones are the naturally found substances in the body and one such hormone is estrogen which is responsible for the well-being of the breasts, ovaries and uterus. However, estrogen can be responsible for the growth of cancer cells and that is why hormonal treatment prevents the estrogen from binding to the cancer cells, and preventing its overall spread.
Immunotherapy : This therapy is also known as immuno-oncology and it helps the immune system to fight the breast cancer cells. Many a times, the cancer cells are hidden by the immune cells that attack them initially, but due to the checkpoint proteins any further attack by other immune cells becomes irrelevant. The drugs used under this treatment may block the attachment of the cancer cells and immune cells due to the checkpoint proteins and then they can be attacked by the immune cells without any hinderance.
Ways to prevent Breast Cancer
Limit Alcohol: It is important to limit the consumption of alcohol. Try to avoid more than one drink in a day.
Keep your weight in check: Being overweight is one of the risk factors. It is important that you avoid over-eating, cut down on sugar and discuss other strategies with your doctor to keep your weight in control.
Stay Active: During the pandemic and the work-from-home culture, a lot of people must have restricted their physical activity without realizing its harmful affects, breast cancer being one of them. It is important that one stays active and finds ways like walking, yoga, light exercises or jogging to keep themselves healthy and active.
Avoid hormonal treatments: After a woman enters the phase of menopause, it is important that she avoids any sort of hormonal treatments, if it can be replaced by drugs and other strategies. In worst case scenario, if a woman has to undergo a hormonal treatment, she must consult a doctor and keep the doses as small as possible. The doctor can also prescribe medications and nonhormonal therapies or keep the length of the hormonal treatments in check.
Diet and Nutrition
Doctors have always said that a balanced diet keeps the overall health of a person in check and keeps diseases at bay. That is why it is important to follow an overall healthy diet. But there are a few things to keep in mind to lessen the risk of breast cancer:
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, mustard greens and chard can be added to the regular diet. They are rich in antioxidants like beta carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein as well as possess anti-cancer properties, lowering the risk of breast cancer.
Citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, lemons and limes are also considered to have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies prove that increase in consumption of citrus fruits reduce the risk of breast cancer by 10%.
Doctors also advice to use olive oil instead of butter or refined oil and to consume fish instead of red meat. The consumption of sea food can lower the risk of breast cancer by 14%.
Berries are rich in flavonoids, antioxidants anthocyanins that restrict the growth of cancer cells and prevents the development of new cancer cells. one can consume berries in their desserts and salads.
Other foods include vegetables like garlics, onions, fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt and kefir. They lower the risk of breast cancer and can be included in the diet easily.
It is important for the people to be aware of the symptoms and treatment of the breast cancer so that they can consult a doctor in time and can discuss their treatment options. The doctor may prescribe a single or a combination of treatments depending on the case. Besides that the preventive measure and diet changes can go a long way in keeping us healthy.
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