Breast cancer is a common form of cancer affecting women around the world. It results when cells of the breast grow out of control. But there are different types of breast cancer, including:
- Inflammatory breast cancer.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma.
- Recurrent breast cancer.
- Ductal carcinoma in Situ (DCIS).
- Paget’s disease of the breast.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer
Some of the notable signs of breast cancer include:
- A newly inverted nipple.
- A lump or thickening of the tissue that feels different on the breast.
- Abnormal changes on the skin of the breast, for example, dimpling.
- Redness of the skin around your breast.
- Crusting, flaking, peeling, or scaling of the pigmented break skin surrounding the nipple.
Ideally, if you notice a lump or a change on your breast, you should see a doctor for prompt evaluation even if you performed a recent mammogram and it was normal. Thankfully there is substantial support for Hong Kong breast cancer screening which has helped create awareness; hence the number of breast cancer survivors has increased.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
Different tests are used to test and diagnose breast cancer, and the doctor chooses one depending on your specific situation.
- Breast exam- this involves checking both of your breasts and lymph nodes around your armpits to feel for any lumps, thickened tissues, or abnormalities. It is advisable to perform a self-breast exam by touching your breasts from time to time to catch any abnormalities early.
- A mammogram- an x-ray of the breast used to screen for cancer. If the doctor notices any abnormality on the screening mammogram, they might recommend a diagnostic mammogram for further diagnosis.
- Breast ultrasound- this involves using sound waves to give images of structures deep within body parts. So it may be used to evaluate if a breast lump is a fluid filed cyst or a solid mass.
- Biopsy- this involves the removal of a sample of the breast cells for examination in a laboratory. This is the best definitive way to diagnose breast cancer. The doctor utilizes a special needle guided by an x-ray to collect tissue from the suspected area. Then a metal marker is left there for east identification of the site during future imaging tests. A pathologist examines the biopsy samples to determine if the cells are cancerous and, if yes, the type of cancer, stage, and whether the cells have hormone receptors that might affect your treatment options.
- Breast MRI- an MRI machine utilizes magnet and radio waves to show pictures of the interior of your breasts.
Staging breast cancer
After diagnosis, what follows is evaluating the extent of the breast cancer known as breast cancer staging. Knowing the stage of cancer helps determine the best treatment options. Some of the tests used to determine the stage of breast cancer include:
- A mammogram of the other breast to determine if it is affected.
- Breast MRI.
- Blood tests, including your complete blood count.
- CT scan.
- Positron emission tomography scan.
- Bone scan.
However, not everyone needs to undergo all these procedures. The doctor only chooses the appropriate tests you need to undergo depending on the symptoms you are experiencing and your specific circumstances. Note that breast cancer stages range from zero to four. Stage zero indicates that the cancer is non-invasive, while stage four shows that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The breast cancer staging process also determines your cancer’s grade and the presence of tumor markers.
What is the treatment for breast cancer?
The treatment option for breast cancer depends on the cancer cells’ type, stage, grade, size, and sensitivity to hormones. Then the doctor will also factor in your overall health and other personal preferences. The treatment doesn’t come cheap either, but the Hong Kong cancer fund has made treatment more accessible and affordable to cancer patients.
The treatment methods for breast cancer include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Most breast cancer patients undergo surgery then receive additional treatment like radiation or chemotherapy for successful treatment.
Breast cancer surgery
Lumpectomy is a breast-conserving surgery whereby the doctor removes the cancerous tumor and a small tissue of the surrounding healthy tissue. If you have a large tumor, you may need to undergo therapy to shrink the tumor and make it small for removal.
Mastectomy removes the entire cancerous breast, including the lobules, fatty tissues, ducts, nipple, areola, and some skin. Skin and nipple-sparing mastectomy are some of the newest breast cancer surgical techniques.
Another option in breast cancer surgery is removing some lymph nodes that were the first to receive lymph drainage from the tumor. If no cancerous cells are detected in the lymph node, then no other nodes need to be removed as the chances of finding cancer in them are low.
The other option is removing several lymph nodes. If the initially removed lymph node is found cancerous, the doctor discusses the possibility of removing additional lymph nodes in your armpits.
The last option of breast cancer surgery is removing both breasts if they are both cancerous. Some women also opt to have the other healthy breast removed if there is an increased risk of cancer developing, probably due to genetic predisposition or family history.
Breast cancer surgery comes with effects such as bleeding, swelling, infection, and pain. The good news is that today there are breast reconstruction procedures after surgery to help achieve a better look and boost your self-esteem. Breast reconstruction can be performed during or after your mastectomy.
Visiting a Hong Kong breast cancer screening center is advantageous because it helps you catch any abnormalities on your breasts or cancer before it advances. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is very devastating, and you have to make a critical decision regarding your treatment.
As such, you need the most support from your family and friends. The least you can do is learn more about breast cancer, network with other breast cancer survivors, keep family close, maintain intimacy with your partner, and find someone you can talk to about your feelings.
Having a solid support system helps you cope well with your cancer treatment.