How to Deal With Breast Cancer
Cancer is a life threatening disease caused by rapidly growing atypical cells. In turn, these cells can destroy normal neighboring cells and tissues. What makes cancer so deadly is when it metastasizes or spreads to vital organs like the liver, bones, or lungs. The fast growing cells would grow from there and can eventually compromise the organ that could later lead to death.
In the US, the leading cause of cancer deaths in women is breast cancer. The cancer usually starts at the milk producing ducts hence called ductal carcinoma. These can also occur on the lobes of the breast and this is called lobular carcinoma.
As with all types of cancer, detecting breast cancer at its early stages is the key to a successful treatment. Therefore, regular self breast examination is recommended for all women starting at the age of 20. Clinical breast examinations should also begin around this age, done every three years. On the other hand, yearly mammograms are advocated by age 40.
The first symptom of breast cancer is usually felt as a lump on the breast. About 80% of all patients with breast cancer are discovered this way. Other signs and symptoms are an inverted nipple, irregular breast shape or breast size, nipple discharge, and skin changes referred to as Peau d’ orange or orange peel where breast skin resembles the skin of an orange.
Treatment depends on the stage at which the cancer is found. There are 4 stages:
The first stage has the best prognosis because the cancer is still within the breast. Surgical removal of the tumor and the surrounding tissues is done with radiotherapy. Little or no chemotherapy is done and risk of recurrence is minimal.
In stage 2, the cancer may or may have not spread to the lymph nodes. In stage 3, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Both stage 2 and 3 have poor prognosis. A mastectomy or removal of the whole breast is done combined with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The risk of recurrence is high.
During stage 4, the cancer has already metastasized or spread to other areas. This stage requires chemotherapy as an initial treatment to shrink the tumor and surgery is done if required.
Women diagnosed with breast cancer are not only concerned about the life threatening disease itself but also losing one or both breasts. Losing a body part is very disheartening. Another main concern is hair loss that is a side effect of cancer chemotherapy. For women, the hair signifies beauty, what more if the breast is removed.
A good way to deal with these difficult times is to prepare the patient’s family to encourage a positive atmosphere in their homes. In addition, the patient can join help groups to address emotional and psychological issues. This enables them to mingle with other patients that have a similar condition and share experiences.