Due to these cancerous cells' uncontrolled cell division, the breast tumor easily passes under the arms into the lymph node system. The lymphatic system forms the overall connective system across all body organs.
Oncologists and physicians classify cancer depending on the tumor size and magnitude of spread across the other body parts. There are five stages of breast cancer.
Known as the Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS). At this stage, the cancerous cells are within the breast lobules and ducts. They have not yet attacked other body cells.
The tumors measure up to 20 millimeters. There is a minute invasion in the lymph nodes.
The cancer tumor is 2-5cm and has started to spread to surrounding cell tissues.
The cancer tumor measures up to 5cm and has infested several lymph nodes across the body.
This is the most lethal stage. The cancer is diversified and has spread to vital organs across the body, i.e., brain, liver, heart, lungs.
Breast cancer is predominantly classified into two: Invasive and In Situ/Non-invasive.
A. Invasive Cancer
This cancer type has spread from the lobules and ducts into the surrounding breast tissues. There are two sub-categories:
• Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC): Attributes to about 85% of all invasive cases. The IDC emanates from the breast ducts. It infiltrates across the breast duct walls into the fatty breast tissue. From, here it then spreads to the surrounding tissues and body organs.
• Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC): Accounts for about 15% of the invasive cases. The ILC starts in the breast lobules and spreads to the surrounding tissues.
The ILC further breaks down into:
B. In Situ/ Non-invasive Cancer
This cancer type has not yet spread from the original invaded tissue. There are two subgroups under this:
• Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (LCIS)- grows in the breast lobules. Often appears as a "fake" cancer type.
• Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)- develops in the breast duct. It forms the stage 0 cancer. It is often treatable.
The most common signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:
• Rash on the nipples
• Pain in the breast and armpits
• Lump in the breast
• Sunken nipples
• Flaking skin around the nipples
• Bloody discharge from the breast
• Red skin across the breast
• Change in breast shape and curve
The physician or oncologist will perform several tests and procedures in the diagnosis stage. Some of the procedures are:
• Physical Examination
The doctor examines the breasts for skin change and the presence of lumps. The doctor also examines the nipples for the presence of pus or any other discharge.
This is an X-Ray imaging for the breasts. A mammogram yields images that indicate the presence of lumps and other abnormalities.
• Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI is an intricate image screening that reveals detailed images of the breast. The MRI indicates the presence of lumps, tumors, and other anomalies. MRI is often used to complement the mammogram.
The ultrasound distinguishes the healthy solid breast tissues from the fluid-filled cell tumors.
In a biopsy, the doctor makes an incision on the breast and extracts some tissue for further laboratory examination.
The biopsy sample reveals the type of cancer as well as its aggressiveness. The biopsy also reveals the type of cancer, whether invasive or in situ.
The type of treatment depends on:
• Cancer's stage
• Tumor size
• Location of the tumor
• Hormonal sensitivity
• Individual's age and general wellness
Breast cancer treatment options include surgery, radiation, hormonal therapy, and immunotherapy.
Aims to remove the cancer tumor or infected tissues. There are various forms of surgical procedures to treat breast cancer.
This is a breast-conserving surgical procedure. The doctor makes an incision on the lump and removes it. He further cuts through a small margin of the surrounding tissue.
Lumpectomy is often used when the tumor is small and separable from the breast tissue.
Mastectomy involves the removal of the entire breast. If both breasts are removed, it is referred to as a double mastectomy. Surrounding tissues are also removed during the procedure. Common mastectomy procedures include:
• Simple mastectomy- the doctor removes the entire breast but leaving behind the lymph nodes.
• Radical mastectomy- both the breast and lymph nodes under the arm are removed.
• Partial mastectomy- doctor removes the tumor and surrounding tissue, but more than a lumpectomy.
• Nipple-sparing mastectomy- doctor removes entire breast tissue, leaving your nipples.
Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
Entails removal of the lymph nodes where the cancer tumor drains to. In this procedure, the doctor only expels a small number of lymph nodes.
Axillary Lymph Node Dissection
The doctor removes the surrounding lymph nodes that are susceptible to the tumor.
High-power beam radiation targets and kills the cancerous cells. Radiation therapy can be external or internal (brachytherapy)
External radiation emanates from a radiotherapy machine outside the body. External radiation lasts up to five to six weeks.
In brachytherapy, the doctor inserts a radioactive element inside the body for about five days.
This is a drug treatment to destroy the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy reduces the tumor sizes for ease of removal during surgery. It is also used to complement the surgical procedures to ensure the tumor does not recur.
Chemotherapy can be in the form of pills or intravenous administration. Consequently, chemotherapy has side effects. You may experience nausea, fatigue, hair loss, infertility, or premature menopause.
Doctors may administer hormone therapy to block certain body hormones from attaching to the cancerous tissues. They treat the progesterone receptor and estrogen receptor cancers. Hormonal therapy is often used after surgical procedures to deter recurrence. However, they may be used before surgery to diminish the tumor size. This hormone therapy aims to halt the ovaries from releasing estrogen hormone, especially after menopause. Hormonal blocking therapy has some side effects such as degraded blood clotting, vaginal dryness, temperature flashes, and intense sweating.
The doctor may administer certain drugs to aid your immune system to fight off the cancerous cells. These drugs also truncate the cell multiplication rate. They fight off the cancer cells that produce proteins that inhibit the immune antibodies.
There is still hope to recover from breast cancer. It's best if you normalize regular checks on your breasts and react to any abnormalities. Be on the lookout for the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Adopt a healthy lifestyle and exercise your body. Remember, a life without health is akin to a river without water.