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Understanding Breast Cancer

Oct 22, 2021

As per the report from breastcancerindia.net, one in every 28 women in India is likely to develop breast cancer during her lifetime. In India, a woman is diagnosed with Breast Cancer every four minutes. These numbers are heartbreaking; the conversation around Breast Cancer needs to take center stage, especially because cancers of the breasts can be treated, when diagnosed early.

To deep-dive into the conversation around Breast Cancer, Dhani’s Senior Strategist, Prakhar Khandelwal spoke to Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS) Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, who helped us in understanding Breast Cancer, its various types, early signs, treatment and more.

PK: What is breast cancer and its different types?

Dr: Breast cancer is a cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. Certain abnormal cells in the breast divide in an uncontrolled way and form a tumour. Mainly affects women, but men can get it too. In India, it is the most common cancer in women.There are different types of breast cancer depending on where in the breast the growth starts. So we have invasive ductal carcinoma, which is the most common variety, where the cells lining the milk ducts become cancerous or we can have lobular carcinoma where the mild glands or lobules have the cancerous growth. There are other types as well such as inflammatory breast cancer which resembles an infection initially or angiosarcoma which is a cancer of the cells of the blood vessels of the breast. These are rare.

PK: Are there any early signs or symptoms?

Dr: Breast cancer can present with a few signs and symptoms, but sometimes there may be none. There can be a lump in the breast or underarm (armpit), thickening or swelling of part of the breast, irritation or dimpling of breast skin, redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast, pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area, nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood or pain in any area of the breast. Any change in the size or the shape of the breast should be investigated.

PK: How is it diagnosed?

Dr: Diagnosis is usually by clinical examination followed by imaging. Tests such as USG of the breast and mammogram tell us about the presence and size of the tumour. Mammograms are used for screening. Breast MRI is also done for a more detailed picture. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Biopsies are procedures which take out tissues or fluid from the breast and examine them under a microscope. Once diagnosed, test are done to understand staging and spread of the cancer. This can include CT scans, PET scans, laboratory investigations, tests for biomarkers etc.

PK: What is the treatment?

Dr: Different types of treatment available and are used singly or in combination depending on the type and stage of the breast cancer. Surgery is done on the affected breast where the whole breast or part of the breast is removed. Radiation therapy - uses high energy X-rays or other radiation to kills cancer cells.In Chemotherapy, medications are used to stop the growth of cancers cells- these can be given by mouth and/or by intravenous route. Hormone therapy is used to removes hormones or block their action and stop cancer cells from growing. For example, certain cancer have cell receptors for estrogen hormone and here we can give use this treatment.  Newer treatments also use targeted therapies where drugs, such as monoclonal antibodies, are used to identify and attack specific cancer cells.

PK: Any other suggestions?

Dr: It is important to note that breast cancer it treatable if it is diagnosed in the early stages, hence it is important to get screened for breast cancer. This is especially true in women with higher risk such as women who have a family history of breast cancer, women who have had late pregnancies (>30 years of age) or do not have children. As the incidence of cancer increases with age, particularly after menopause, it is important to get screened at regular intervals. Breast self- examination is something that all women should know and must do regularly.

To know more about breast cancer or if you feel any of the symptoms, do reach out to top doctors on the Dhani app, on the Dhani doctor platform you can speak to any of our doctors who will be able to help you with your health concerns. Get connected to Dhani doctor in just 10 seconds, available 24x7. Download today to try free consultation for 30 days.

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