CANCER
May 25th, 2021
3 mins read

Your comprehensive guide to breast cancer causes, signs and treatment

Breast cancer affects 5% to 8% of the Indian population

Presence of lumps in the breast is one of the early breast cancer signs

Women over the age of 50 are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer

Breast cancer affects 5% to 8% of the Indian population, making it the second most prevalent type of cancer after cervical cancer. Moreover, around 50% to 70% of breast cancer cases are primarily diagnosed in the advanced stage, where chances of cure and survival are significantly lower. Studies have shown that this can be attributed to the lack of infrastructure to carry out screening tests, a casual attitude towards female health as well as a lack of awareness. To ensure you understand early breast cancer signs and avail treatment at the right time, read on.  

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer, as the name suggests, forms in the cells of the breast. While it can occur in both men and women, it is widespread in women. While increased awareness and early diagnosis have helped completely cure this cancer worldwide, the same cannot be said about breast cancer cases in India. Awareness and knowledge about the disease can help in early diagnosis and subsequent treatment and cure. It is thus in your best interest to know the breast cancer causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention options.  

Breast cancer symptoms

Symptoms of breast cancer include the following. 

  • A long present lump in the breast or underarm that feels different from the surrounding tissues. This warrants immediate medical attention. A doctor will order a mammograph to confirm the diagnosis. Usually, lumps are painless, but sometimes they may cause pain and tenderness. 
  • Dimple or flat indent on the breast, which is a sign of a tumor.  
  • Sudden changes in the appearance, size and shape of the breast.  
  • Inversion of nipples or changes in the skin over and surrounding the breasts. 
  • Pigmentation, peeling, crusting, flaking or scaling of the areolas or skin over the breasts.  
  • Sudden bloody or clear discharge from the nipples. 
  • Swelling under the arm and collarbone as the spread of cancer from the breasts to the lymph nodes can cause inflammation in these areas. 

Additional Read: Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Home check for breast cancer

Self-examining your breast along with regular screenings can help you notice any unusual development or changes in your breast and help you seek immediate medical attention when required. So, if you have ever wondered ‘How to know if I have breast cancer?’, here is a step-by-step guide. 

check breast cancer at home

  • Step 1: Stand in front of a mirror with your shoulders straight and hands on your hip and look for changes in the size, shape, texture, swelling or indented area on the breasts. If you see any breast cancer symptoms like an inverted nipple, redness, soreness, dimpling of the skin around the breast or any breast cancer signs mentioned above, seek medical attention immediately.  
  • Step 2: In this step, you raise your hands above your head to look for the same changes in the mirror. At the same time, look for any signs of coloured or clear discharge from the nipples. 
  • Step 3: Now, lie down and feel your breasts one at a time using opposite hands, that is, right hand to feel the left breast and left hand to touch the right breast. Use your fingers, keep them together and apply light, medium, and firm pressure on different areas of the breast. For example, use firm pressure to feel the tissues in the back, light pressure for the tissues beneath the breast, and medium pressure for tissues located in the middle of the breast. Follow a consistent pattern, such as moving your hands in small circles or moving them up and down to ensure that you cover the entire breast area. The latter pattern has proved to work for most women. 
  • Step 4: Here, you can feel your breasts while standing up and preferably in the shower to get a better feel and grip. Again, ensure that you cover your entire breast area. 

Breast cancer causes and risk factors

The common causes and risk factors of breast cancer are as follows. 

  • People over the age of 50 years are more susceptible to developing breast cancer. 
  • Women who haveinherited mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. 
  • The onset of periods before the age of 12 and late onset of menopause after 55 is one of the most common breast cancer causes. 
  • A family history of breast or ovarian cancer, especially a close relative like a mother, sister or aunt, increases the risk of breast cancer. 
  • Women who underwent radiation treatment, have had breast cancer or noncancerous breast issues and were administered diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarriage are at high risk of developing breast cancer. 

Diagnosis of breast cancer

A doctor will conduct the following diagnostic tests to diagnose breast cancer. 

Physical examination

The doctor will physically examine your breast, looking for any unusual changes in the shape, size, and skin of the breasts.

Mammogram

On detecting the presence of lumps or tumors in the breast, the doctor may order a mammogram, an X-ray of the breast to check if the tumor is benign or cancerous.

Ultrasound and MRI

For further confirmation and clarity, the doctor may order these non-invasive imaging tests as well.

Biopsy

Here, a small piece of the breast tissue is surgically removed to be studied in a lab. 

Breast cancer treatment options

Depending on the stage of cancer, the doctor may resort to any of the following treatments. 

Lumpectomy

Here, the cancerous tissues in the breast are surgically removed while keeping the breast intact.

Mastectomy

Here, the entirety of the breast, along with the tumor and connecting tissues, are surgically removed.

Chemotherapy

One of the most common cancer treatments, this uses drugs to impede the spread of cancer.

Radiation

Here, targeted beams such as X-rays are used to kill cancer cells.

Hormone and targeted therapy

This is used when breast cancer is caused due to hormones. 

Similar to other cancers, early diagnosis and treatment is the only way to cure breast cancer altogether. While you cannot control or prevent causes such as genetics and age, adopting a healthier lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing breast cancer. Additionally, ensure that you undergo regular check-ups and screening for breast cancer, especially once you cross 40 years of age. Moreover, on the slightest doubt on detecting any early breast cancer signs, visit your doctor immediately. 

Finding the right oncologist is simple on Bajaj Finserv Health. By using location, gender, experience and other filters, you can find the right specialist near you and even book appointments. While you can choose an in-person consult, you can also use the app to book a video consultation to get remote care.  Choose from our health plans to get affordable options from partner clinics and labs to address your health holistically.

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