Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2023: Causes, Symptoms and Signs

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2023: Causes, Symptoms and Signs

Breast Cancer, you won’t define the day, With Unity and Love, we’ll find the way

Breast cancer is the second most common reason why women in the United States pass away because of cancer, after lung cancer. Presently, there are over 3.8 million women in the United States who have a history of breast cancer, with many having survived it and others still managing it. The number of women who have passed away due to breast cancer has fallen by 43% by 2020, after reaching its peak in 1989. The positive outcome was attributed to spotting breast cancer early, refining treatment approaches, and enhancing awareness. The consequence was the prevention of more than 460,000 breast cancer deaths during that time frame.

Breast Cancer Symptoms and Red Flags

Many times, people get diagnosed with breast cancer, but their bodies don’t show any obvious differences or give them any clear signals at the beginning. Symptoms are your body’s signals that it is trying to get your attention. They are the things one can sense changing in your body, like a fever or aches, telling that something is happening. Signs are the data points that doctors use to interrupt your body's message. These data points can be measurements, like the weight or the results from a urine sample, which help them see the bigger picture of your health. When trying to figure out what might be wrong with the health, the medical team looks up both symptoms and signs, putting them together helps doctors understand the medical issues. Not every time a symptom or sign shows up means cancer, it could be linked to some other medical situation.

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However, there are cases where people do have symptoms or signs at the beginning of their breast cancer diagnosis. If any of these Breast cancer symptoms or signs appear, it is recommended to communicate them with a Doctor. 

  • Noticing a Breast lump that feels like a hard knot or an area that is thicker in your breast or under your arm? Make sure to feel the same on your other breast as well. This comparison helps establish whether the change is a common aspect of healthy breast tissue in that particular spot.
  • If your breast has undergone a change in size or shape.
  • If you experience sudden Nipple discharge, when not breastfeeding, especially if it’s not bloody or happens only in one breast. 
  • In case you experience alterations like your nipple going inward or having a sore in the nipple area. 
  • If you notice your skin getting irritated or changing, such as puckering, dimpling, scaliness and new creases. 
  • When your breast appears warm, red, and swollen, and if you also spot a rash that is causing dimpling resembling the texture of an orange’s skin, this is something called ‘peau d’orange’
  • When you encounter prolonged Breast pain, even though it’s not a common manifestation of breast cancer, it is important to have your doctor aware of the situation. 

If your breast hurts and the pain sticks around, even though breast cancer doesn't hurt, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know. Your doctor will ask you about how long you have had the symptoms, and how often they happened along with some other inquiries. The goal of doing this is to understand why the problem exists, it’s similar to finding clues to solve a mystery, and we call this process making a diagnosis. 

If cancer is detected, making sure the person’s symptoms are managed well becomes a significant aspect of their treatment and care. When someone is dealing with a serious illness like cancer, taking care of their symptoms is also known as ‘palliative careor ‘supportive care’. After diagnosis of serious illness, the care that helps manage symptoms begins early on and continues alongside treatment.

It is important to discuss the symptoms you are facing with your healthcare team. This involves telling them about any new symptoms or if your existing symptoms are not the same anymore. 

The possibility of having breast cancer

A risk factor is anything that raises the likelihood of someone getting cancer. Even though Breast cancer risk factors can affect the chances of getting cancer, most of them don’t actually trigger cancer on their own. Cancer can affect differently - some who have lots of risk factors don’t get it, while others who don't have any known risk factors can still get cancer. Being aware of what might raise your chances of getting cancer and having a conversation with your doctor about it can help you make better decisions about your health and how you live. 

Most of the time, breast cancer occurs by chance because there’s a problem with a person’s genes that happens after they are born. Having sporadic cancer means there’s no chance of transmitting the gene causing it to one’s kids. Sporadic breast cancer arises from a combination of things like hormones inside the body, the way a person lives, environmental influences, and normal bodily activities such as DNA copying. 

While you are assessing your breast cancer risk, it’s essential to understand that most individuals who develop it don’t have clear risk factors or a strong family history of the disease. The chances of getting breast cancer are influenced by multiple risk factors. This indicates that everyone should be vigilant about changes they observe in their breasts. They need to communicate with their doctor to understand the doctor’s recommendations regarding the timing of regular breast examinations and Mammograms. When you have a mammogram, it’s like getting an X-ray for your breast that can discover tumors that are too small to touch.


Certain things that can raise the chances of getting breast cancer

  • Breast cancer risk increases as people grow older, and most cases emerge after they reach 50 years old. 
  • If a woman previously had breast cancer in one breast, her chances of getting new cancer in the other breast is higher. 
  • Family history of breast cancer; family history could be a factor in breast cancer in these cases. 
    • Women aged 45 or younger have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and there is at least one case.
    • One side of a family, like the father’s side, has a history of breast/ or ovarian cancers that have affected multiple generations. For example, if both a grandmother and an aunt were diagnosed with one of these cancers.

It is essential to communicate these situations to your doctor, if your family has encountered them. It might hint at the presence of a genetic change in your family that makes breast cancer more probable. 

When considering your family's history, it’s essential to consider your father’s side. Just like your mother’s side, your father’s side is equally vital in determining your personal likelihood of developing breast cancer.

Lower the risk of getting breast cancer

Different factors are linked to the development of various types of cancers. Ongoing research aims to uncover the specific causes of breast cancer and methods for Breast cancer prevention. Although there is no proven way to completely avoid breast cancer, you may have the ability to reduce the risk. 

  • Being physically active on a regular basis is a method to decrease your risk of breast cancer. Research suggests that engaging in 30 to 60 minutes moderate to high-intensity exercise each day could be linked to a reduced chance of developing breast cancer. 
  • Another way to lower your risk is by keeping your weight in a healthy range and avoiding Hormone replacement therapy with both estrogen and progestin after menopause. 

According to research, decreasing the alcohol you consume may decrease your chances of developing your breast cancer. Healthy lifestyle choices, like eating a healthy and balanced diet can reduce your risk.

The treatment of breast cancer:

Breast cancer can be treated in different ways, depending on the specific type and how much it has spread. Most of the time, those with breast cancer receive a variety of Breast cancer treatments to combat the disease. 

Surgery: During surgery, a group of skilled doctors, who are also called surgeons, make careful openings in the patient’s body to reach the part where there’s cancer. Once they find the cancer or lump, they use special tools to carefully cut it out entirely. This step is vital in treating various types of cancer because it physically takes the cancer away from the body. 

Chemotherapy: To treat cancer, special medicines are used to shrink or kill the cancer cells. These medicines can be used in the form of pills, or they can be given to the patients through a needle in the veins, and sometimes both medicines are used together. The doctors carefully choose the Chemotherapy drug and schedule for your specific type of cancer to help you get better. 

Mastectomy: It involves surgically removing the breast where the cancer is located. It can help the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body or lessen the chance of it developing again. Mastectomy becomes a preferred choice when radiation and chemotherapy by themselves may not be sufficient to handle the cancer, or when it is a more suitable option based on the type and stage of the cancer. 

Hormonal Therapy: This treatment is for slowing down or even stopping certain types of cancer. It does this by blocking the hormones in the body which cancer uses for its growth. This helps the cancer shrink or keep it from getting worse. 

There are many different ways to treat breast cancer, but the best one for you depends on your specific situation. To figure that out, it is essential to talk to the doctor.

 

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Identifying breast cancer at an initial stage

WHO has outlined a roadmap to reduce breast cancer deaths by focusing on early detection, which improves treatment outcomes and lowers mortality rate. Presently, numerous awareness initiatives are in place to educate women about the importance of early detection in the battle against this deadly disease. 

Women, regardless of age, are encouraged to conduct breast Self-exam on a monthly basis. This practice is highly significant as 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are first noticed by women, who detect a lump during their self- examination. 

Clinical breast exams are highly valuable when considering breast health. These examinations are administered by healthcare specialists, like doctors and nurses, who are proficient and adept at conducting a thorough evaluation of a woman's breast health. 

The purpose of screening is to detect cancer in its early stage, typically before any symptoms become noticeable. The ultimate purpose of Breast cancer screening include:

  • Detects cancer during its early development, which is when it is most manageable.
  • Diminish the fatality rate linked to the disease, with the ultimate goal of eradicating cancer fatalities.

Copying with breast cancer journey

Coping with breast cancer can pose challenges, both physically and emotionally. 

It is not uncommon for side-effects to continue following the completion of treatment, these are known as long-term side effects. Taking care of long term side-effects and late effects is a key component of Supportive care. State in touch with your health care team to share how you are doing on a regular basis, so that they can discover strategies for easing or mitigating the side-effects, enhancing comfort and potentially preventing them from getting worse. 

After being diagnosed with cancer, individuals may experience social and emotional impacts. People might find it hard to convey their emotions to family and friends. Consulting with an oncology social worker, counselor,  or clergy member can offer helpful insights into enhancing the Mental health coping skills. 

Clinical trial for breast cancer

Clinical trials are conducted for every form and stage of breast cancer. In the context of breast cancer clinical trials are commonly the best course of action, with a primary emphasis on investigating new treatment options to assess their safety, efficacy and potential benefits compared to established therapies. 

People who join clinical trials might receive a treatment ahead of its public release, making them early beneficiaries of the new therapy. However, clinical trials do carry certain risks, such as the possibility of encountering side effects and uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of the new therapy. Individuals are advised to consult their healthcare team to deliberate on Trial benefits and risks of participating in a particular research project. 

Still, people are  participating in trials for many reasons, some patients find that a clinical trial offers the most promising treatment avenue, acknowledging that conventional treatments are not without their flaws and are willing to confront the extra uncertainty it entails, hoping for more favorable outcomes. Others decide to volunteer for clinical trials because they recognize that these research endeavors provide an opportunity to contribute to the process in treating early-stage and locally advanced breast cancer. Even if they do not directly benefit from the clinical trial, their involvement may lead to the advancement in the treatment of breast cancer for future generations. 

Survivorship

‘Survivorship’ is a term with diverse interpretation, making it a complex concept for different individuals, commonly accepted definition include: 

  • Having no indications of cancer after the completion of treatment.
  • In accordance with this definition, cancer survivorship starts with the diagnosis and remains a constant presence throughout the treatment journey and beyond, encompassing a person’s lifetime.

For some, the term ‘survivorship’ doesn’t adequately encapsulate their experience, and they opt for different languages to articulate and define their unique journey. Living with cancer for an extended period presents its own set of challenges, and your healthcare team is ready to help you manage the Post-treatment care. 

Breast cancer survivors may find Life after breast cancer treatment to be stressful, especially when they no longer have the consistent contact with their healthcare team. Often, the connections cultivated with the cancer care team provide a sense of comfort during treatment, and individuals long for this crucial source of assistance, particularly when new anxieties and obstacles come to the forefront over time, such as potential late effects from treatment and emotional challenges like the fear of cancer returning. 

Embracing survivorship denotes a positive initiative in acknowledging your fears and initiating candid conversations to address them. Effectively managing requires:

  • Embracing an understanding of the hardship you are experiencing. 
  • Examining strategies for resolution.
  • Encouraging and accepting assistance from others. 
  • Having peace of mind about your chosen action.

Support Resources for Breast Cancer

An abundance of Breast cancer support and resources is readily available to those affected by the condition. The purpose of these resources is to deliver information, support and assistance to patients, survivors, and their families. 

With the growing awareness of breast cancer, one will come across Breast cancer charities and groups that exist to assist people dealing with this illness. These organizations offer support, information, and help to those who need it. And can also find uplifting Survivor stories from those who have successfully navigated their way through the challenges of a breast cancer journey. These stories can inspire and show that it’s possible to overcome this difficult experience. 

Remember, early detection saves lives, and each of us has a role to play in making a positive impact. We should stand together to promote better understanding, improved treatments, and brighter outcomes for all those facing breast cancer.



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