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Breast cancer: what you need to know

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women and the second leading cause of death from cancer among the same demographic. By the numbers, it is estimated that about 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime and 1 in 33 will die from it. It’s a very difficult reality, but ignorance is not bliss. On the contrary, having some basic knowledge about breast cancer is a powerful tool that can lead to early detection and a less traumatic diagnosis in the event that breast cancer becomes a part of your life.

Keep reading for a pertinent overview on breast cancer symptoms, types and treatments.

 

BREAST CANCER SYMPTOMS & DETECTION

Symptoms of breast cancer are extremely varied. And while an unusual change in the breast may be a symptom of cancer, it could also indicate a non-cancerous issue like a cyst or infection.

It’s important to note that not all breast cancers produce a distinct lump or a mass; inflammatory breast cancer, for example, is a fast-growing form that usually starts with the reddening and swelling of the breast — with no lump.


It is always helpful to be aware of changes in your breasts. Consult your doctor if you notice anything unusual, such as:
• swelling of all or part of the breast
• irritation, dimpling, thickening, redness or scaliness of the skin
• pain in any area of the breast
• the nipple turning inward
• nipple discharge other than breast milk
• a lump or mass of any kind in the breast or underarm area

 

 

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TYPES OF BREAST CANCER

Breast cancer most often develops in the breast lobules that produce milk, in the ducts that transport milk to the nipple, or in the tissue in between them. Doctors classify breast cancer according to three main factors: the location of the cancer (for example, ductal or lobular), if and where it has spread (for example, in situ, invasive or metastatic) and if it has recurred after previous treatment.

We often hear about non-invasive versus invasive cancers, but when it comes to breast cancer, what does this mean?

Non-invasive breast cancers remain in the milk ducts or lobules in the breast, and do not invade the normal tissues within or outside of it. Invasive cancers on the other hand do grow into normal, healthy tissues, and most breast cancers are unfortunately invasive.

In some cases, however, invasive and non-invasive cancer cells can be present at the same time. Whether the cancer is noninvasive or invasive plays the biggest role in one’s treatment options and how one may respond to them. For more details on specific types of breast cancer, there are excellent resources here and here.

 

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BREAST CANCER TREATMENTS

Breast cancer is treated differently depending on factors including the location and type of the cancer, and many patients will receive a combination of treatments provided by doctors with different specialties. Some common breast cancer treatments today include:

  • Surgery, which involves removing cancerous tissue during an operation.
  • Chemotherapy, which shrinks or destroys cancerous cells using medication administered orally, intravenously or both.
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy rays to destroy cancerous cells.
  • Hormonal therapy, which prevents cancerous cells from receiving the hormones required to grow.
  • Biological therapy, which works with the body’s immune system to help it fight cancer cells, or to manage the side effects produced by other treatments.

Even thinking about breast cancer can be upsetting and overwhelming, but learning about early detection strategies can significantly improve prognosis in the case of a diagnosis

Do you have questions about breast cancer screening? Click here to book a consult with your Medisys physician today.