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Understanding Breast Cancer

Breast cancer accounts for about 30% of cancer cases in the world. The disease can develop in both men and women. Most breast cancers begin in the milk glands or ducts.

The causal factors of breast cancer include a family history of the disease, genetics, age, high alcohol consumption, and lifestyle, among others. However, any average woman is at risk of developing the disease at some point in their life.

Some forms of breast cancer do not cause any noticeable symptoms. Others will present lumps and swelling in the breasts that don’t go away. The lumps will feel hard, with irregular edges, and mostly appear as swellings in the armpit or at the collar bone. If you also experience pain in the breast, a sunken nipple or nipple discharge, it might be a sign of breast cancer. It is vital to confirm with your doctor.

Breast cancer is staged according to the size of the tumor, its extent, prognosis, and the best treatment options available for the patient. The stages include stage 0 (ductal carcinoma in situ) where cancerous cells remain within the duct and will not grow further. Stage I is where tumors are small and still localized. Cancers in these stages are treatable and curable.

In stage II and III breast cancer, the tumors will have grown and spread into other lymph nodes. For stage III, cancer will have invaded organs such as the chest wall and skin. Stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer is more advanced and has spread to the lungs, bones, liver, or brain. It is incurable, and patients will only be given medication to slow its progression.

Doctors diagnose breast cancer through imaging tests such as mammography, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), biopsies, and other pathology tests.

Surgery is the most common treatment used in breast cancer. Doctors will surgically remove the tumor in the breast to rid it of cancer. In other cases, a combination of treatments will be used depending on the type and stage of breast disease and the patient’s preferences.

Types of breast surgery include lumpectomy to remove the tumor, mastectomy to take out all breast tissue, and lymphadenectomy to remove part or all the lymph nodes under the arm. Other treatment options include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, and radiation.

Sometimes these treatments can cause adverse side effects such as pain, lymphedema, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, high blood sugar levels or cholesterol, infections, heart problems, and much more. Patients can be given medications to boost the body’s immunity or alleviate the underlying side effects.

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