Despite being the most common cancer in Malaysia, many are still unfamiliar with what breast cancer is all about, other than recognizing October as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”.
Being equipped with the right information about breast cancer helps in reducing the number of cases and increasing the survival rates.
“If you stay informed, you overcome fear, and that will give you hope”, said Dr Azura Rozila Ahmad, Beacon Hospital’s Consultant Medical Oncologist.
In this blog post, we explore the crucial information that you need to know about breast cancer.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. Similar to other cancers, cells in the breast start to grow uncontrollably and, in some cases, spread to other parts of the body either through the blood vessels or the lymphatic vessels.
Signs and symptoms
Some signs of breast cancer that you should be aware of are:
- A lump in the breast or the armpit
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Dimpling of breast skin
- Redness of the breast or in the nipple area
- Pain in the breast
- Blood discharge from the nipple
- Any change in size and appearance of the breast
How to detect breast cancer early?
There are three modalities when it comes to detecting breast cancer early. These include :
- Clinical breast examination – Breast examination done by a healthcare professional who is trained in spotting any lumps or physical changes in the breast.
- Imaging – While there are many detection systems currently available, mammograms — an X-ray picture of the breast– still remain the gold standard when it comes to early detection of breast cancer.
- Biopsy – A small amount of tissue is removed and analyzed further to get an understanding of the tumor.
- Triple Assessment – A triple assessment includes all three modalities of clinical breast examination, imaging, and biopsy.
Once the patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors will determine the extent of the cancer through a process called staging.
There are 5 stages of cancer, starting from stage 0 up to stage 4. The stage of the cancer is determined by its size and if it has spread, or metastasized. Generally, the lower the stage number, the less the cancer has spread.
In cases of breast cancer, once the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, a full body scan will be done due to the breast being a well connected gland.
“The breast is a gland that produces milk and is well connected to a lot of systems. The most common sites of breast cancer spread include the lungs, brain, liver, and bone”, Dr Azura said.
Breast cancer treatment is specifically tailored for each patient based on a few decisive factors such as:
- Patient characteristics
- Imaging data
- Molecular information
- Pathological data
According to Dr Azura, “There are many factors that have to be incorporated in decision making for a patient. Since each case is individualized now, not everyone will be treated the same.”
Dr Azura also mentioned, that in order to cater to each patient, various modalities and multidisciplinary teams are involved during treatment to ensure the best possible outcome.
Treatments for breast cancer include:
- Surgery – An operation where cancer tissues are cut out.
- Radiotherapy – High energy rays are used to kill the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy – Pills or medicines given through your veins designed to shrink or kill cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy – Helps the patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy – Medications that are designed to identify and attack cancer cells while causing minimal harm to normal cells.
- Endocrine therapy – Blocks necessary hormones that cancer cells need to grow.
Breast cancer remains the number one cancer among women in terms of incidence and deaths. Early detection is key to surviving breast cancer as it is easier to treat in its early stages.
Beacon Hospital’s Breast Care Clinic offers complete breast care management, from detecting all the way to treating the cancer.