Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Understanding Breast Cancer

This is my second post on Breast Cancer.  In my first post   'Let's Say Bye Bye to Breast Cancer' i had created awareness  about the Campaign being organized by Indusladies and Blogadda.  This post is all about decoding Breast Cancer. 


This year 100,000  women would be diagnosed with breast cancer in India.  50,000 will die just because they were diagnosed late.

Luckily survival rate is more than 90% if diagnosed early.

Every 13 minutes, a woman dies of breast cancer 

85% of breast lumps found are benign.

One in eight woman or 12.6% of all women will get breast cancer in her life.

96% of women who find and treat breast cancer early will be cancer free after five years.

You can never be too young to develop breast cancer .  breast cancer self exam should begin by the age of 20.

What are the signs of Breast Cancer?

Signs of breast Cancer may include pain, skin thickening, nipple discharge or a change in the breast size or shape.

What is Breast Cancer?

Everyday cells in your body divide, grow and die. Most of the times cells divide and grow ina an ordinary manner. But sometimes cells grow out of control. This kind of growth of cells forms a lump or mass called a tumor. tumors are either benign (non cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Malignant tumors are made of abnormal cells and and are cancerous.  Malignant tumor cells can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

How does Breast Cancer grow and spread?

To grow, malignant tumors need to be fed. They get nourishment by developing new blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis. The new blood vessels supply the tumor with nutrients that promote growth. As the malignant breast tumor grows it can expand  into nearby tissue.  This process is called invasion.

Cells can also break away from the primary or or main tumor and spread to other parts of the body. The cells spread by travelling through the blood stream and lymphatic system.this process is called metastasis.

When malignant breast cells appear in a new location they begin to divide and grow out of control again as they create another tumor.  Even though the tumor is growing in another part of the body, it is till called breast cancer. The most common locations of metastatic breast Cancer are the lungs, liver, bones and brain.

Who is at risk?

Age All women age 40 and older are at risk for breast cancer.  Most cases occur at 50 or above and risk is especially high for women over 60.

Personal history of breast cancer.  women who have had breast cancer are more likely to develop a second breast cancer.

Family history.

Genetic alterations. Inherited changes in certain genes  e.g. BRCA1, BRCA2 increase the risk of breast cancer.

Breast Density.  women who have a high  percentage of dense breast tissue have high risk.

Reproductive and Menstrual history.  women who had their first menstrual period before 12 or who went through menopause after 55 are at risk.

Long term use of Menopausal Hormone Therapy.

Radiation therapy. women who had radiation therapy  of chest before the age of 30 are at risk.

alcohol. Studies indicate  higher intake of alcohol means higher risk.

Body Weight. Risk is higher for overweight or obese women.

Physical activity level.  Inactivity means high risk as being active reduces risk by preventing weight gain.

Breast Self Exam (BSE) 

Every woman over 20 should periodically self examine the Breasts to look for any guilty or a nodule , just like a hard pea.  Alternately women can get this done at a Breast  examination clinic.

What is a Mammogram?

Mammogram is an X ray picture of the breast. Mammograms can be used to check breast Cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. this type of mammogram is called screening mammogram. The X ray images make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt.

Mammograms can also be used to check Breast Cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found.  this type of mammogram is called Diagnostic Mammogram.

Mammogram has a false negative rate of 10%. So  it is advisable to go for Fine needle Aspiration cytology (FNAC).

Methods of treatment

 Methods of treatment for breast cancer are local or systematic.  Local treatment are used to remove , destroy or control cancer cells in a specific area.  Surgery and Radiation therapy are local treatments. Radiation therapy is the use of high energy rays to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing.

Systematic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells throughout the body. chemotherapy and hormone therapy are systematic treatments.


There are two kinds of surgery for Breast Cancer. A Lumpectomy involves removal of tumor as well as some normal tissue surrounding it.  No reconstruction is typically needed following lumpectomy.

Mastectomy is removal of breast . This is usually appropriate for women who have cancer  in multiple areas of breast. Reconstruction at the time of surgery is an option.

This is the use of driugs to kill cancer cesll. the drugs may be given by mouth or injection the drugs enter the blood stream and teavel throughout the blood stream. Chemotherpay is given in cycles of drugs followed by a  recovery period and then another treatment and so on. Chemotherapy acts by killing cells that divide rapidly, one of the main properties of cancer cells.  It also harms cells that divide rapidly under normal circumstances  - cells in bone marrow, digestive tract and hair follicles. 

 Some common side effects of chemotherapy are decreased production of blood cells  resulting in depression of Immune systems, Fatigue, Hair loss ( temporary), Nausea ( temporary).

Hormonal therapy is used to keep cancer cells  from getting the hormones they need to grow.  in this treatment drugs are given which change the way hormones work or surgery to remove ovaries is done which make female hormones.

New Hope

Scientist have developed a new cancer treatment that can safely deliver extremely high chemotherapy doses with minimum side effects. Called TDM1, it has very good anti tumor activity as well as much lower toxicity.In this drug only the malignant cells are destroyed so patients have fewer side effects associated with chemotherapy.It is being developed by the Pharma company Roche.

Spreading Awareness

Woman's Cancer Initiative - Tata Memorial Hospital is organizing an Annual breast and Gynecological Cancer Conference.  Actors Lisa Ray

and Dimple Kapadia will be the faces of the Campaign between October 22 and 24, 2010.

Docu- Drama on Fighting Breast Cancer

Uni - Globe Entertainment Production has produced a docu - drama on the issue called '1 a  Minute'. Directed by Namrata Singh Gujral, the movie has partnerd with Priya Dutt's Nargis Dutt Memorial Charitable Trust (NDMCT) in India.The movie stars International actors like Lisa Ray, Olivia Newton John, Barbara  Mori who all survived CancerIt will be released in select theaters on October 29, 2010.  Part of the profit  from the sale of each ticket will be donated to NDMCT.

 is Breast Cancer Awareness month and throughout the world efforts are being taken to spread awareness about this life ending disease. But the good news is that if detected at an early stage one can survive and live a Cancer free life.  Besides all that is  being done by the medical fraternity and Charity , it is friends  and family who can be the biggest support for a woman going through treatment of Breast Cancer. So let us go Beyond Hope and  never undermine the loving care of a loved one and  let us all give extra care and love to someone who is fighting this disease.  I hope my post will make a small difference in creating awareness.  Do give your comments!