Breast Cancer Types, Symptoms, Treatment Options
Created by Neetu Ralhan Updated on Jul 11, 2021
In our continued attempt to educate our proparents about breast cancer, we bring to you another blog on the treatment options available.
A recent Indian study reported a higher incidence of breast cancer for women living in urban areas (1 in 22) as compared to rural women where 1 in 60 is known to develop breast cancer. According to the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, the average age of the high risk group of breast cancer in India is 43-46 years.
In the second part of our Breast Cancer awareness series, we share with you the various types of available breast cancer treatments.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
The most common symptoms of Breast Cancer include
- A lump or mass felt in the breast or underarm area
- Thickening of breast skin
- Breast pain
- Crusting, redness or scaling of breast skin
- Discharge from nipple
- Swelling in all or part of the breast
Do note that these symptoms can also be signs of a less serious condition. Therefore, it is important to seek your doctor’s advice before reaching any conclusion.
Types of Breast Cancer
There are several different types of breast cancer:
Non-invasive breast cancer
Also known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), this is an early stage breast cancer which rarely shows as a lump in the breast and is usually found through a mammogram. It develops in the milk ducts of the breast but hasn’t spread into the surrounding breast tissue.
Almost all women diagnosed at this stage of breast cancer can be cured.
Invasive breast cancer
Invasive ductal breast cancer starts in a milk duct, breaks through the wall of the duct, and spreads to the surrounding tissue. It is the most common type of breast cancer. It has the ability to spread outside the breast through the lymph nodes.
Other types of breast cancer
Invasive lobular breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer and Paget's disease of the breast are other, less common forms of breast cancer. When breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body through the lymph nodes, it is known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatment
If detected early, breast cancer can be controlled before it spreads to other parts of the body. Usually treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiotherapy, a patient’s treatment plan depends upon a number of factors including type of cancer, stage of cancer and the patient’s general health.
Surgery is usually the first recourse for treating breast cancer. Surgery is usually followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy. There are two main types of breast cancer surgery as given below:
- Breast conserving surgery which involves removal of the cancerous lump. In this surgery, only the tumor and some surrounding breast tissue are removed. This is followed by radiotherapy to destroy any remaining cancerous cells.
- Mastectomy in which the whole breast is removed to avoid the cancer from spreading. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, more extensive surgery may be required. This is often followed by a reconstructive surgery to replace the removed breast either with a breast implant or by using body tissue to create a new breast.
In chemotherapy, anti-cancer medicines are administered once every 2-3 weeks. Mostly given after surgery, sometimes chemotherapy is used before surgery to shrink large tumors. Medicine is usually given through a drip and does not require overnight stay at the hospital.
Chemotherapy usually lasts about 4-8 months, depending upon the patient’s specific need. Some side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, tiredness, hair loss, loss of appetite and soreness in mouth. However these side effects can be controlled with medicines.
Radiotherapy involves using radiation to destroy cancer cells. It is usually given after surgery and chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells. Treatment begins about 4 weeks after surgery or chemotherapy and involves 3-5 sessions a week for up to 6 weeks.
Breast radiotherapy, chest wall radiotherapy, lymph node radiotherapy and breast boost therapy are the available types of radiotherapy. Do note that not all women need radiotherapy.
Fatigue, irritation of breast skin and soreness of breast are some side effects of radiotherapy.
Hormone therapy is given in case of hormone-receptor-positive cancers which are linked to hormones estrogen or progesterone. In hormone therapy, the levels of these hormones are lowered in the body in order to control the cancer. This is done either by medication or ovarian suppression (stopping the ovaries from producing estrogen).
While hormone therapy is usually given after surgery and chemotherapy, sometimes it may be used as the only treatment for breast cancer if a patient’s general health does not allow surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
If a woman’s breast cancer is not sensitive to hormones, hormone therapy will not be helpful.
Some breast cancers are stimulated to grow by a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). In such cases, biological therapy is used to stop the effects of HER2 protein and to support the immune system in fighting cancer cells.
In this therapy, antibodies are given through drip or injection to target and kill cancer cells that are HER2-positive. That is why this treatment is also known as target therapy. Each therapy session takes up to one hour and may present side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, body ache or tiredness.
Apart from the above, many women seek complementary therapies such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation and aromatherapy. These can help relieve the stress associated with breast cancer treatment and help some women cope with the side effects.
It is important for women to know that early detection is key to surviving any form of cancer. Therefore, regular breast examination and reporting any unusual symptoms to your doctor is crucial for your safety.