Breast cancer has had breakthroughs in novel screening and treatment options, enabling it to be found early when it’s easy to treat. Researchers are still working to find better ways of diagnosing, treating, and preventing the disease. They are looking to develop target therapies that will help minimize the side effects of treatment and also boost survival.
The risk of breast cancer increases with age, personal and family health, high estrogen levels, exposure to radiation, and other environmental factors.
Symptoms include breast pain, a lump in the armpit or breast, nipple discharge, changes in shape and size of the breast, and unusually firm breast skin. If you experience such symptoms, you should immediately seek medical attention.
However, having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. You should discuss your condition with your doctor and get tested if necessary.
Screening at age 40 is advisable to check for early breast cancer. Methods like x-rays, breast MRIs, breast tomograms, ultrasound, or mammograms can help reduce death from the disease among women aged 40 to 70 by detecting the cancer early.
Early breast cancer can be treated with surgery and radiation. Lumpectomy and mastectomy are the surgical procedures used. A lumpectomy removes only the areas affected while mastectomy takes out the whole breast.
Chemotherapy is also used before or after surgery. Sometimes oncologists use hormone therapy or targeted therapy to treat certain tumors.
Breast cancer that has already progressed to other body parts has no effective cure. But there are new therapies that can control metastatic disease and help prolong the patient’s life.
Breast cancer prevention strategies vary depending on the patient’s risk. Women at high risk are those with personal and family history. If you have a history of the disease, you should see a genetic expert who’ll check for BRCA genes. Specific BRCA mutations increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer, and the risk increases as they age.
Women with BRCA mutations can opt for a preventive mastectomy to remove the whole breast. However, this is an aggressive surgery that should only be considered after discussing the risks, benefits, potential complications, and alternatives with your doctor.
Studies have also found that you can take a medicine that blocks the effects of estrogen as a preventive approach to reduce breast cancer risk. Those at high risk can use drugs, such as raloxifene and tamoxifen. Raloxifene is meant for postmenopausal women.
Regardless of your risk for breast cancer, making healthy changes like reducing alcohol intake, stopping smoking, regularly exercising, and eating a heart-healthy diet can reduce your chances of developing the disease.