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What is breast cancer? A beginners guide

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Last updated on : 21 Mar, 2024

Read time : 6 min

Did you know?

October is celebrated as Breast cancer awareness month.
The theme of this awareness program focuses on RISE (Rally in Supporting, Screening and Serving Everyone)

As you know one in every 28th Indian woman is likely to develop breast cancer during her lifetime.
It is basically a disease which involves excessive growth of breast tissue which results in the formation of a mass or lump of tissue.
Breast cancer among Indian females is as high as 25.8 per 100,000 women and mortality is 12.7 per 100,000 women.

Causes and risk factors of breast cancer

It mainly involves the ducts and lobules of the breast. These cells can also travel or show metastasis to different areas like lymph nodes of the arm & via blood to other organs and create complications there.

The major risk factors related to a higher incidence of cancers include:

  • Inherited cancer gene: Certain genes mutation which can cause breast cancer is passed from the parents to their children.
  • Increasing age: Increasing age is a major risk factor for breast cancer.
  • Obesity: Increase in weight increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Radiation exposure: Any kind of exposure to radiation treatment during the course of life can be a potent risk factor.
  • Early onset of menstruation: The onset of menstruation before the age of 12 is also another risk factor for breast cancer.
  • Having never been pregnant
  • Smoking: Smoking has always been associated with cancers, maybe oral, lung or breast cancer.
  • Drinking alcohol: Alcoholics are shown to develop breast cancer more often as compared to Non – Alcoholics.
  • Any other breast-related conditions like atypical hyperplasia

The presence of these factors doesn’t assure you’ll develop cancer but makes you more susceptible towards it. If you have these factors try taking preventive measures as early as possible.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

Types of Breast Cancer

One of the most advantageous facts about breast cancer is that it can be self-diagnosed as it has certain signs which are easily seen by the individual only.

The major signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • You should know that the first sign of this cancer is the formation of a small lump or tumour that feels different.
  • Other signs include:
  • Redness or pitting of the skin over the breast like that of orange is another important and early sign.
  • The difference in the shape, size or appearance of the breast
  • Unusual discharge from nipples like blood etc
  • The appearance of a lump or swelling under your arm
  • Peeling or flaking of skin
  • Inverted nipples
  • Sudden pain in the breast

It is necessary not to panic if you come across any of these signs or symptoms eg not all lumps are cancerous.
Always consult a doctor for examination if you come across any such swelling or a tumour mass.


The very reason for a low survival rate in Indian women accounts for its lack of awareness and poor early screening and diagnosis rates.
The management of breast cancer first involves early diagnosis of it. The early diagnosis comes with early testing.

Management includes

1) Investigation

  • Breast Self Exam
  • Mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound
  • Breast MRI
  • Biopsy

2) Treatment

The Main treatment line includes:

  • Surgical treatment
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Biological Therapy (Targeted drug therapy)
  • Hormone Therapy
  • Chemo Therapy

3) Surgeries

Major surgeries include:

a) For Breast Surgery

  • Lumpectomy
  • Mastectomy

b) For Lymph Nodes Surgery

  • Sentinel Node Biopsy
  • Axillary Lymph Nodes Dissection

c) Breast Reconstruction Therapy

4) Radiation therapy

The radiation treatment of breast cancer is given after the surgical procedure which mostly is a lumpectomy or mastectomy. This is done to remove any remaining cancer cells.

5) Biological therapy

Biological therapy includes drugs which are targeted to specific cancer-growing cells for the management of breast cancer.
Medicines that can be used in the treatment of Breast Cancer are as follows:
– Arimidex 1mg
– Anastrozole 1mg
– Aredia 30mg Injection
– Abraxane 100mg Injection

6) Hormone therapy

Certain breast cancer involves hormones such as estrogen and progesterone for their growth. In such cases, we lower the hormone levels so the binding of these is less to the breast cancer cells. But in other cases, they are mostly given after the surgical procedure to prevent breast cancer recurrence.

7) Chemotherapy

The chemotherapy procedure is usually carried out before the lumpectomy in order to shrink the size of the breast cancer tumour. Sometimes also given after the surgery to prevent a recurrence.
The management of breast cancer can be successful only when the diagnosis of it is done in the early stages.

Is breast cancer fatal?

A commonly asked question is breast cancer fatal
Well answer to this question is that early-stage cancer shows successful management with treatment and is not fatal. In fact, most breast cancer-diagnosed people live a long full-filling life.
Late-stage breast cancer detection often shows difficult management and can sometimes be fatal despite all treatment measures.

Breast cancer prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
The small precautions that can take you a long run include:

  • People nowadays are becoming aware of breast cancer self-exam. This allows women to become familiar with their breasts and inspection of any irregularities. Further allows early diagnosis for the same.
  • Try drinking alcohol with limitations.
  • Having a healthy diet. Women having diets rich in nuts, Essential oils and mostly plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables etc are seen to have low chances of acquiring breast cancer.
  • Stay Fit. Exercise more often. At least 30 mins of good sports activities most days in a week, makes you go for a fit and healthy lifestyle
  • More often go for breast screening. Ask your doctor about better breast cancer screening strategies for you.
  • Health Programmes like NBCCEDP (CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program) have proven beneficial.

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Our healthcare experts have carefully reviewed and compiled the information presented here to ensure accuracy and trustworthiness. It is important to note that this information serves as a general overview of the topic and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or cure any health problem. This page does not establish a doctor-patient relationship, nor does it replace the advice or consultation of a registered medical practitioner. We recommend seeking guidance from your registered medical practitioner for any questions or concerns regarding your medical condition.


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