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Breast Cancer – Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Breast Cancer – Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Being excessively overweight and eating foods rich in fats are both possible risk factors for developing breast cancer. Excessive exposure of the breasts to X-rays or other forms of radiation increases the likelihood that cancer cells will develop and there is some evidence linking a higher risk of breast cancer with long-term use of replacement oestrogens – the hormones given to woman to replace those lost during menopause – although the data is not conclusive.

The role of oral contraceptives in increasing breast cancer risk is even less clear. Some studies, in fact, seem to indicate that the combined pill may actually reduce a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. Contrary to popular belief, failure to breast-feed does not increase the risk of breast cancer; nor, on the other hand, is breast-feeding a protective factor. Risk factors such as obesity and high fat intake are avoidable, but there are also unavoidable risks including age (after 45, the risk of developing breast cancer increases); previous breast cancer; a history of breast cancer in your mother or sister; early onset and late ending of menstruation; and not having had children or having them after the age of 30.

Although you may fall into a high-risk group, remember the chances are that you will probably never get breast cancer. Whether you fall into the high-risk group or not, regular check-ups are your best defence. Doing something about it could save your life.

Any out-of-the-ordinary change in appearance, texture, feel or function of your breast should be considered a symptom, however tentative and you should report it to your doctor immediately. Do not panic, but do not waste any time either. Most changes, such as the appearance of lumps, turn out to be non-cancerous. However, you should be particularly alert to three types of changes: a lump or thickening of tissue inside the breast, a change in the shape of any part of the breast and any fluid that comes from the nipple.

Depending on the symptom, your doctor will examine you and order tests to determine whether the sign indicates the presence of breast cancer or, more likely, is caused by something else. Minor surgery in the form of a biopsy may be necessary, but most doctors will not perform one unless a preliminary examination indicates that cancer may be present. If there is any doubt in the mind of your doctor, he will probably refer you to a specialist who may check the interior of your breast without actually using a needle or knife. The most common way of doing this is by taking a mammogram (a breast X-ray). If the mammogram reveals a suspicious spot, then a biopsy will most likely be the next step. A biopsy can be performed in one of two ways: a hollow needle may be passed into the breast to extract fluid containing cells, or the specialist may use a knife to remove a small or large portion of tissue. The first method is called an aspiration biopsy, the second is known as a surgical biopsy. An aspiration biopsy will be done either in the specialist’s surgery or in the outpatient’s department of a local hospital with a local anaesthetic. A surgical biopsy is usually done in a hospital and will take more time.

The simplest way to remove a breast cancer surgically is by an operation that is often called a lumpectomy. In this procedure, which is usually performed in conjunction with radiotherapy, the surgeon removes the tumour and a small amount of tissue around it, but leaves the skin over it in place. The most extensive procedure is the radical mastectomy – the total removal of the breast along with underlying chest muscles and the axillary lymph nodes in the adjoining armpit. Today, radical mastectomies to remove breast cancer are done much less often than previously even though some surgeons still believe that they offer the best chance of total eradication of the disease.

Breast Cancer – Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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