Cancer is a generic term given to the diseases that happen due to the abnormal growth of cells in our body. Normally, as a part of general upkeep and repair of tissues, the cells in our body divide to form new cells which replace the old or dead ones. Usually, these cells die after serving their purpose and get replaced by another batch of fresh cells. However, sometimes some of these cells keep on dividing relentlessly and move through blood vessels and walls of lymph nodes to enter nearby tissues. These ‘abnormal’ cells then slowly surround the tissue and form a small and solid tumour on it. This tumour, if malignant, is dubbed as cancer.
Similarly, breast cancer is cancer where malignant cell growth happens in the cells of the lobules, ducts or the connective tissue of the breast. It can happen to anyone who has breast tissue, irrespective of their gender. Today, breast cancer is very common amongst menopausal women, making up about 15 per cent of all new cancer diagnoses each year. Moreover, it has been estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life.
Usually, breast cancer starts in the cells of the milk-producing glands, lobules or in the ducts through which milk travels to the nipples. But these malignant tumours can also develop in the fibrous and fatty connective tissue that surrounds the lobules and the ducts as well as the lymph nodes in the breast tissue. Most breast cancers are usually invasive in nature and grow into normal, healthy tissues. This invasion also heightens the chances of cancer becoming metastatic i.e; branching out to different areas, away from the point of origin, in the body.
In India alone, breast cancer ranks as the number one cancer amongst the nation’s women with an occurrence rate as high as 25.8 per 1,00,000 women. Recent reports issued by the country’s health ministry point out that the mortality rate of breast cancer in India is about 12.7 per 1,00,000 women. Moreover, the ministry has also estimated that at least 17,97,900 women in the nation may have breast cancer by the year 2020. Additionally, the occurrence of breast cancer in young women is also rising.
A breast cancer diagnosis at any stage of life is very shocking for women. Usually, the course of treatment is decided by how aggressive the cancer is. A late diagnosis can result in not only drastic treatment measures like chemotherapy and surgical intervention but also in pain and death.
However, breast cancer can be both prevented and cured, only if one is diligent. Women, especially women above the age of 40, should do a regular self-exam of their breasts and look out for discharge, lumps, dimpling, scaly patches, change in shape of the breast, and nipple inversion. These are the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Women over the age of 40 should get a mammogram done on a once every two years.
Inputs by: Mr.Sahil Gupta, Co-founder and Director, Oncoplus Cancer Care Centre