Breast Cancer: Stages and Treatment

July 26, 2021

Cancer involves the abnormal growth of body cells when old cells fail to die but grow abnormally, forming new, abnormal cells and quickly spreading to other body organs. The abnormal cells form a tumor, a mass of tissue though different cancers such as leukemia do not necessarily form tumors. This is caused by mutations of the DNA within the cells due to various factors such as smoking habits, poor diet, obesity, environmental factors, and excessive alcohol intake.

Early signs of cancer include abnormal weight loss, appetite loss, fatigue, nonhealing sores, lump in the breast or elsewhere, blood in urine and stool, persistent pain, and recurrent nausea. The primary cancer types are breast cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer, and lymphoma. Cancer of the lungs is considered to be the deadliest type of cancer, and it causes the most deaths. Asbestos is claimed to be the primary cause of lung cancer, together with smoking. This assignment will focus on breast cancer, its causes, symptoms, types, prevention, and treatment.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer forms in the breasts in both men and women though women are the most affected. Breast cancer prevalence comes second after skin cancer among women. It begins when the cells in the breasts start to grow abnormally. The cells divide 30 times before any symptoms can be detected by hand, where each cell division takes one or two months. Breast cancer can therefore be in a patient for 2-5 years before a cancerous lump is felt. The abnormal cells can grow out of control, invading the surrounding tissue in invasive breast cancer. It can move to the axillary lymph nodes, inside the breast, and collar bone. Survival rates for breast cancer have increased, and breast cancer deaths reduced due to early detection, a better understanding of breast cancer by the public and professionals, and a new personalized approach to treatment. Early diagnosis,  improved management, and effective treatment of breast cancer have reduced the mortality rate due to breast cancer.

Detection of Breast Cancer

A mammogram is used as a screening test for breast cancer. It is like a breast X-ray that can detect breast cancer even two years before a tumor is felt.  To detect Breast cancer at home, one should place a pillow under the shoulder and arm and with the other arm move the finger pads around the breast to cover the whole breast area and the armpit with changing pressure followed by an examination of the nipple by squeezing it to check for discharge and lumps.

Causes of Breast Cancer

Hormonal changes, lifestyle, and environmental factors are the main factors causing breast cancer. It, however, remains unclear why exposure to the risk factors affects some people and not others. Breast cancer is therefore caused by an interaction of the lifestyle and environmental factors and the genetic make-up of a person. Breast cancer could also be inherited through a series of gene mutations passed through generations of the family. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the identified breast cancer gene increasing the risk of contracting breast cancer. This makes it necessary for families with a strong breast cancer history to have regular testing for early detection and prevention measures.

Risk Factors to Breast Cancer

Some aspects increase the likelihood of a person getting breast cancer. Being female is one of the risk factors as more females develop breast cancer than males. The risk of breast cancer is claimed to increase with age. A previous personal record of breast problems means that a person can get breast cancer more quickly. If you have had breast cancer in the past, it is likely to reoccur again later in life, to the same breast or the other. A family breast cancer history increases the risk even at a young age. Inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes through gene mutation and passed down through generations is also a risk factor. Beginning your period early and late menopause increases the risk for breast cancer. Pregnancy with a first child while older than recommended or having never been pregnant increases the breast cancer risk in addition to radiation exposure, postmenopausal hormone therapy, obesity, and excessive alcohol intake.

Types of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer types include invasive ductal and lobular carcinoma, phyllodes tumors, inflammatory, metastatic breast cancer, and angiosarcoma of the breast. Metastatic cancers are the most aggressive types of breast cancers as they involve the movement of cancer from the original tumor site to other distant tissues. Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common. It starts developing in the milk ducts then moves to the fatty and fibrous tissues outside the duct. Most cancer types occur in the upper outer breast part.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Patients with breast cancer may experience discomfort, fatigue, inverted nipple, nipple discharge, and lumps. Swollen lymph nodes and skin redness around the breast area may also be experienced. Other symptoms include the change in the appearance and size of the breast, dimpling of the breast, peeling, cracking, and flaking of the skin around the nipple or breast.

Stages of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer starts from stages 0 to 4. In the first stage, the cancer is mainly in the ducts of the tissues in the breast and has not started spreading to the tissues around. At stage 1A, the tumor has not spread, but at stage 1B, cancer spreads to the lymph nodes. At stage 2A, cancer has spread to up to 3 lymph nodes, while at stage 2B, the tumor has continued to spread to up to 3 lymph nodes and measures 20 to 50 mm. at stage 3A, the cancer is present in 4 axillary lymph nodes while at stage 3B, it has spread to the chest wall and affected up to 9 lymph nodes. In stage 3C of breast cancer, a tumor has spread to over ten lymph nodes. At stage 4, the cancer has spread to other body organs such as the lungs, brain, bones, liver, and chest walls. When cancer returns after treatment, it is called recurrent cancer.

Prevention of Breast Cancer

A variety of measures can be adopted to reduce breast cancer risk. These measures include regular breast screening (Seely, 2018), understanding your breasts well by doing breast cancer self-exam, and limiting postmenopausal hormone therapy. To reduce the occurrence of breast cancer, one should also limit alcohol intake, engage in regular physical exercise, and choose a healthy diet by working towards a healthy weight and maintaining it through healthy strategies to avoid getting breast cancer. Women at more breast cancer risk should use preventive medications and preventive surgery to minimize the risk.

Treatment of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer can be treated through surgery and therapy depending on the stage, grade, and size. Breast cancer surgery involves the elimination of the tumor through a lumpectomy, eliminating the entire breast through mastectomy, eliminating a few lymph nodes, eliminating several lymph nodes, or removing both breasts. Women with an increased risk can have their breasts removed even if they are healthy to avoid getting breast cancer. Lumpectomy is recommended for small tumors and some patients with big tumors may require chemotherapy to shrink the tumors before their removal through a lumpectomy. Recent surgical procedures have been developed to remove selected areas of the breast while still maintaining the appearance of the breast by sparing the skin and the nipple.

Therapy to treat breast cancer includes radiation therapy where strong energy beams are used to deal with cancerous cells, chemotherapy which uses drugs to damage cancer cells, addition to hormone therapy to treat hormone-sensitive breast cancers, and immunotherapy to fight cancer.

Medications blocking hormones from attaching to cancer cells are used for hormonal therapy in addition to those that limit the body from making postmenopausal estrogen. Targeted therapy drugs are also used to deal with specific abnormalities within the cancer cells. The drugs focus on human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a protein that breast cancer cells overproduce to grow and survive. Palliative care to provide relief from pain for breast cancer patients is important in supporting them. Palliative care is provided by a team of specialists along with the patient and the family to make the patient feel better and live longer. It improves the quality of care for the patient and their caregivers and families.

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