Women in their 30s/40s can and do get breast cancer, raising the need for young women to be breast aware. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), 1 in 8 women is diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lives. Having said this, not all the lumps are cancerous. Here are a few things that you must consider to get started with breast cancer:
Your breasts can speak to you
Most of the women experience breast cancer symptoms such as a painless lump or mass, skin irritation, an inward turning nipple; pain in the nipple or breast; nipple discharge, thickening of the nipple or breast skin, scaliness, redness, and breast swelling. But, how many of us pay attention to these symptoms?.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, bring it to your doctor’s attention.
Breast cancer doesn’t need a family history
You might not have any family history of breast cancer, but that can’t be an assurance of you not getting diagnosed with breast cancer. As per the American Cancer Society, more than 85 percent of women who get breast cancer have no family history of cancer. Most of the women who find a lump in the breast think they needn’t worry as they have no family history of cancer. But, the truth is that even if you have no family history, you are still at risk of getting breast cancer over your lifetime.
High-risk factors are relative
The term ‘high risk’ is scientifically used by oncologists to determine the chances of cancer. There is no standard definition of what truly constitutes high-risk. It means that someone has a higher cancer risk than someone without any risk factors.
Here are a few breast cancer risk factors as per the National Cancer Institute :
- Excess alcoholism
- Getting your first menstrual period before age 12
- Giving birth for the first time after age 30
- Never being pregnant
- Starting menopause at an older age
- Having a close relative with breast cancer
Regular mammograms are a must
Some experts believe forty is the right age to get mammograms whereas a few recommend that women over fifty years must get mammograms once every two years. As breast cancer is age-related, most women prefer mammograms once they are in their fifties. However, considering the overall health of women, it’s better women start annual mammograms once they’re in their forties.
Talk to your doctor about when you should start getting mammograms and how often you should get them.
Breast self-examination is a preventive measure
Taking a monthly breast self-exam will serve as a preventive measure. Earlier the detection of breast cancer, better is the treatment planning. Regular breast self-exams will let you know the presence of lumps (if any), and you can consult an oncologist accordingly.
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Are you amongst the millions who associate breast cancer with fatality; a disease that is almost impossible to cure and one that definitely involves chemotherapy? Most people believe that cancer treatments and medicines have little benefit. However, a look into new findings and discoveries in the field of oncology is enough to change this common perception about breast cancer.
For years, doctors and oncologists have chosen chemotherapy and radiation as a post-surgical breast cancer treatment. The knowledge, willingness, and proactive approach of the oncologists’ and their involvement with the patient’s treatment play a vital role in breast cancer treatment.
The oncologist and the patient
The oncologist is not only responsible for the diagnosis but is also responsible for providing clarity and knowledge to the patient about their cancer. Most importantly, the oncologist is responsible for deciding and charting out the best treatment course for the patient. Discussions surrounding prognosis often require oncologists to be sensitive, honest, and encouraging.
The treatment to a particular breast cancer patient and the response to treatment is unique to each patient, and the oncologist must share relevant information with the patient. Apart from this, the oncologists are responsible for post-treatment follow-up to assess the effectiveness of the treatment.
Oncologists have to consider many factors when determining a patient’s treatment and one thing that is often difficult to decide is whether a patient should be given chemotherapy or not. Several factors are considered:
- The size of the breast cancer tumor
- The stage of breast cancer
- Whether cancer is only in the breast or has spread to other parts of the body
- The hormone-receptor status of the cancer
- Whether the cancer is triple-negative (estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative, and HER2-negative)
- The rate of cell growth
- If the cancer is likely to come back (recurrence)
- Factors such as the age, menopausal status, and general health of the patient.
According to an assessment by WHO, cancer cases in India will multiply over five times by 2025.
Most patients associate cancer with chemotherapy and one of their first set of questions include queries about chemotherapy: How many sessions of chemotherapy will be required, what are the side-effects, what are the costs involved, will chemotherapy benefit, and what exactly happens during chemotherapy? Among other common questions are: will cancer come back after the surgery? How aggressive is cancer and how fast is it spreading?
A large number of patients and their families aren’t aware of the alternative treatments for breast cancer that are available in the country today. Hence, it is the oncologist’s responsibility to introduce the patients to new treatment options so that the patients consider all the available options.
Oncologists and cancer clinics have to be updated with the latest research and findings in the field of medical research to be able to provide the best treatment to their patients.
Breast cancer trends and cure
In India, breast cancer cases are on the rise. There has been an increase in the number of discoveries, alternative cancer care options, and innovative personalized treatment options for breast cancer patients in India.
In the last five decades, breast cancer treatment has become the model for the development and success of tailored medical treatment.
Therapeutic approaches for breast cancer have changed over the past few decades, and the use of systemic therapy for early and advanced disease tailored to the individual patient holds the promise of delivering treatment to those in need and who could benefit the most. While we’re nowhere near where we should be or could be—in either preventing or treating cancer—science has led to evident progress in treating breast cancers of different kinds.
Advances in hormone therapy for hormone receptor-positive cancer
Some breast cancers are driven by natural hormones, estrogen and progesterone. These are referred to as hormone receptor-positive if they are estrogen receptor-positive (ER positive) and/or progesterone receptor-positive (PR positive). Hormone therapy for breast cancer is only used to treat cancers that are ER or PR positive.
Despite conventional hormone therapy, approximately 20–30% of patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer suffer recurrences and the development of metastatic disease as they experience a biochemical mechanism of resistance. Considerable progress has been made in this area, and newer therapeutic targets have been developed against a number of hormonal resistance mechanisms.
Are all patients with early breast cancer benefiting from chemotherapy? A number of experts and oncologists asked this question. Some delved deeper into it. With this question in mind, global investigators motivated by the development of new prognostic and predictive tests such as OncoStem’s CanAssist Breast. The test focuses on personalizing breast cancer treatment to avoid over treatment and under treatment.
Clinical research is currently evaluating new therapeutic approaches and is identifying specific biological subsets that could determine a patient’s ability to respond to a particular treatment.
Scientific, machine-learning precision – CanAssist Breast
Artificial intelligence and machine learning is an emerging approach to breast cancer. CanAssist Breast is the first such test developed in India, specifically for Indian patients. It determines the tumor’s fingerprint and assesses its aggressiveness. Assessing the tumor biology in detail, the test considers key biomarkers. Based on this combined analysis performed by proteomics based technology, the information is then assessed by a statistical algorithm that provides a score – whether the patient is at low or high risk for breast cancer recurrence.
The importance of medical research
The advent of new drugs targeting specific actionable targets has led to considerable progress in the treatment of breast cancer over the past few years. Yet, some challenges such as resistance to systemic therapy, the high cost of treatments, and limited availability in many parts of the country still remain.
Experts continue to find ways to improve the available technology to provide proper guidance for those living with breast cancer and for those at high risk of developing it.
The author of this blog, Dr.Jayanti Thumsi, has been a practicing breast oncologist for 16 years, has performed 3500 breast surgeries, and 2500 other surgeries. She is an expert in Breast conservation and Breast Reconstruction surgeries. With a keen interest in spreading breast cancer awareness among women, she has conducted 258 awareness programs and has educated 158000 women. She is also the founder trustee of the CREST Foundation working to decrease the burden of breast cancer. Her book, Lump to Laughter, highlights the emotional journey of women going through breast cancer treatment.