Breast Cancer 101: What You MUST Know

By Dr Goh Keat Ying
LifeCare Diagnostic Medical Centre
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia

Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control due to mutations in genes that regulate cell growth. The uncontrolled cancer cells often invade other healthy breast tissue and can spread to other parts of the body through blood and lymph vessels.

Facts You Need to Know about Breast Cancer

  1. Can occur in both men and women, but it’s far more common in women.
  2. Studies have shown that the development of breast cancer is complex, likely due to a combination of genetic, hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors.
  3. About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to gene mutations passed through generations of a family. The most well-known are breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2), both of which significantly increase the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.

Other risk factors for developing breast cancer include increasing age, obesity, a lack of physical exercise, alcoholism, radiation exposure, first menstruation at early stage, having children late in life or not at all, beginning menopause at an older age, postmenopausal hormone therapy, and having a prior history of breast cancer. However, having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease for sure.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, a change in breast shape, dimpling of the skin, a newly-inverted nipple, a red or scaly patch of skin, nipple discharge or pitting of skin over the breast like the skin of an orange.

Check Your Symptoms Early

To determine if your symptoms are caused by breast cancer or a benign breast condition, your doctor will do a physical examination. They may also request one or more diagnostic tests eg. mammogram and/or ultrasound scan to help understand what’s causing your symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest further investigations such as an MRI or a breast biopsy if necessary.

Various Treatments Available

Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. Doctors from different specialties often work together to treat breast cancer. Although surgery is the most common treatment, many women have additional treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation, or hormone therapy.

Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

All treatments for breast cancer may cause some types of side effects. Surgery can cause pain and lymphoedema. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, mouth sores, neuropathy, fatigue and infection. Hormonal therapy can cause hot flashes, mood changes, vaginal dryness, joint pain, and bone thinning. Radiation therapy can cause itching, soreness, and peeling skin. Targeted therapy can cause side effects that are similar to chemotherapy, but usually less severe. The good news is that most side effects can be treated and most ease off after treatment is completed.

Prevention is better than cure!

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