What is Breast Cancer?
What is Breast Cancer?
A woman's breasts are made of specialised glandular tissues, which are drained by lymph glands under the arm (axilla).
Breast cancer is the unregulated growth of malignant cells in the breast.
This mass of abnormal tissue is called a tumour.
Who are at Risk of Breast Cancer?
Breast Cancer commonly affects women, but it can develop in men. One in eight women develops breast cancer in their lifetime.
How will Breast Cancer Affect Me?
Breast cancer is not just one disease – it comprises many varied and different types, some of which may never cause you any harm, but others which will need significant and intensive treatments to cure.
Our specialists will use the latest technological advances to advise you of the success rates for your treatment. We often describe breast cancer in terms of ‘stage’, however, there are more modern technologies, such as ‘genomic testing’ – which can fine-tune whether treatment such as chemotherapy is needed.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Most breast cancers are thought to arise in a ‘sporadic’ fashion, that is, not related to particular family history. However, some genetic mutations can predispose to breast cancer, a well-known example is BRCA1 and BRCA 2. We will pay particular attention to your family history, if present, of breast and ovarian cancer, amongst others.
Hormones also play a major role in the development of breast cancer. Other risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Increasing age
- Being a woman
- Dense breast tissue
- Early menstruation (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55)
- Use of birth control pills
- Heavy smoking and alcohol consumption
- Being overweight or obese
- Not breastfeeding after childbirth
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Initially, breast cancer may or may not cause any symptoms.
The 1st sign of cancer is a lump or mass in the breast. The lump is usually painless and hard, with an uneven edge, but maybe tender and soft at times.
Breast cancer may be indicated by any unusual changes including:
- Swelling of the breast,
- Skin irritation,
- Pain in the breast or nipple,
- Nipple turning inward,
- Redness or thickening of nipple or breast skin,
- Nipple discharge, or
- Lump in the underarm area
How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed
If any of the above symptoms arise you should see your GP immediately for examination, breast imaging (mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy) and referral to one of our specialists for assessment.
If You are Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
After you have been diagnosed, your doctor will arrange "Staging Scans". These normally include a CT and Bone Scan.
You will then have another appointment with your doctor to discuss these results, and the different treatment options available to you.
Once a confirmed diagnosis is made and the nature and stage of the Breast Cancer are better understood your doctor will plan your treatment.
How is Breast Cancer Treated?
The aim of Breast Cancer treatment is to
- Remove cancer (surgery) and
- Decrease the risk of it recurring (radiotherapy and systemic therapy – hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy).
Your doctor may follow a sequence of treatments including:
Surgery for Breast Cancer
Your specialist may choose between many types of surgeries. These include the removal of a tumour and a small margin of healthy tissue, the entire breast tissue and sometimes, even the neighbouring lymph nodes.
After the removal, your breast can also be reconstructed at the same time or a later procedure.
Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
Radiotherapy is a highly targeted and effective way to destroy breast cancer cells.
Radiotherapy can be used to treat primary cancer or advanced cancer. It may be used as the only treatment, or used in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy.
The type of radiotherapy used in breast cancer management is called External Beam Radiotherapy. In this therapy, high-energy x-rays are used to:
- Reduce the size of cancer and
- Relieve pain, discomfort and
- Relive other symptoms.
Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer
This treatment includes the administration of medicine through the bloodstream to weaken and destroy the cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy may be given after surgery, to kill any cancer cells that have been left behind in the body or before surgery, to shrink cancer.
Hormonal Therapy for Breast Cancer
This therapy includes treating breast cancer with hormones. These medications help to shrink or slow the growth of cancer cells by lowering the levels or blocking the action of oestrogen hormone on the cancer cells.
Targeted Therapy for Breast Cancer
Targeted Therapy is used for patients with breast cancer and involves the use of pharmaceuticals to promote the expression of the gene, HER2 receptor. This therapy is given as an injection.