Breast cancer, or cancer of the tissue of the breast, is the most rampant form of cancer in the world today. It is responsible for the highest number of female cancer-related deaths in the US. The risk of it in women increases as the age increases. For women who live up to ninety years, the chance of having breast cancer is as high as 1 out of 9 to 13. It is not just a female disease; it can also affect the males as the tissues making up the breast are the same in men and women.
What Happens in Breast Cancer?
In people having breast cancer, there is a sudden and unexplained multiplication of cells of the breast tissue resulting in the formation of a lump. This lump is a tumor and in the initial stages (benign stage) it is painless. This is also the time when it can be surgically removed. With the passage of time, the tumor grows and starts becoming invasive. This is called as the malignant stage. At this stage it is very difficult to operate upon the tumor. Even if the tumor is removed, its traces will remain and hence new tumors will arise. This is a very painful stage and often terminates with death.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Causes of breast cancer are better known than most other types of cancers. Some of the primary causes or causative factors are given below:-
(i) Today, an increasing number of scientists are believing that breast cancer occurs due to hereditary factors. The mutation of DNA is considered to be responsible for the onset of breast cancer in females. At least two genes have been identified, BRCA1 and BRCA2, which mutate to increase the chances of breast cancer.
(ii) Age plays a very important role. As the woman grows older, her chances of having breast cancer increases.
(iii) Alcoholism and smoking are causative factors. Women who consume two drinks on a daily basis have a 25% more chance of getting afflicted by breast cancer at some stage of their life. Another US study indicates that at least 6% of all breast cancers could be prevented if drinking was brought to a minimum level.
(iv) It also seems to have a relation with the obesity of a woman. Gaining weight after menopause (about 40-45 years in most women) severely increases the chances of having breast cancer.
(v) Though some people believe that abortions increase the chances of breast cancer in women, this is not a medically proven theory.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer can be detected quite early as it shows a number of definitive symptoms. Some of the early warning signs of breast cancer are as follows:-
- Discharge from the nipples which is definitely not milk.
- Sudden changes in the nipples, such as the nipples getting inverted.
- Changes in the skin covering the breasts.
- Changes in the shape of the breasts leading to unnatural curvatures and asymmetries.
- Presence of a lump under the base of the breast or near the collarbone, which persists for more than a couple of days.
Any of these symptoms must trigger warning bells in your mind and take you to your nearest gynecologist. Deaths due to breast cancer are avoidable if tackled early on.
Treatment of Breast Cancer
As in all cancers, there is no treatment for breast cancer. That is to say, this disease cannot be stopped without removal surgery or other such drastic methods. The following are the descriptions of some treatment methods for breast cancer:-
(i) Surgery – During the benign stage, the lump can be removed surgically. This is called as lumpectomy. Lumpectomy can only be done when the lump is still small and has not yet become invasive. But when the lump begins to spread through the breast, then lumpectomy does not help. At this stage, the entire breast might need to be removed. The surgical removal of the breast is called as mastectomy.
(ii) Radiation therapy – Breast tumor tissue can be killed by applying gamma or X rays directly at the affected tissue. This method works most of the time, but it may also damage the healthy tissue lining the affected part. However, this is not of major concern as the healthy tissue can repair itself. Radiation is done through a linear accelerator. Each sitting takes about fifteen minutes to half an hour, and it must be done five days a week for about six to eight weeks. The reason for staggering the treatment is to give the healthy tissue a chance of repair itself.
(iii) Chemotherapy – Several chemical drugs can be used to locally treat the breast cancer. Chemotherapy is a systemic process of treatment. The concentration and nature of the drugs used differ from person to person.
Prevention of Breast Cancer
Ayurveda has prescribed several herbs that can reduce the cases of breast cancer. Some of the popular herbs that are used for treatment are:-
(i) Essiac tea
(iv) Black cohosh
(v) Pau d'arco.
With proper knowledge of the disease, breast cancer is easily preventable. Today, people all over the world are expressing their solidarity and concern in fighting breast cancer by wearing pink ribbons and spreading breast cancer knowledge and information.
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