Introduction Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the breast, it is called breast cancer. Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women.
Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in Qatar, accounting for 31 percent of cancer cases in women. The risk of women in the population developing breast cancer is 56 per 100,000 (source: Qatar Cancer Registry). Both women and men can however be affected by breast cancer. It is important to note that many breast cancers are treatable and patients can survive if it’s diagnosed and treated early.
For this reason, it’s vital that women check their breasts regularly for any changes and always have any changes examines by a GP.
- Breast cancer screening means getting a woman’s breasts checked for cancer before she has any symptoms.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Invasive lobular carcinoma
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
- Male breast cancer
- Paget's disease of the breast
- Recurrent breast cancer.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Breast cancer can have several symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump area of thickened breast tissue.
Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by a doctor.
You should also see a GP if you notice any of these symptoms:
- A change in size or shape which is not normal for you
- Redness or a rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
- Discharge from one or both of your nipples
- A lump or thickening that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue
- A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like orange skin)
- If your nipple becomes inverted (pulled in) or changes position or shape
- A lump or pain in the underarm/armpit
Causes of breast cancer
The exact causes of breast cancer are not fully understood. However, there are certain factors known to increase the risk of breast cancer: These include:
- Age – the risk increases as you get older
- A family history of breast cancer
- A previous diagnosis of breast cancer
- A previous non-cancerous (benign) breast lump
- Being tall, overweight or obese
- Drinking alcohol
Diagnosing breast cancer
See a GP as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms of breast cancer, such as an unusual lump in your breast or any change in the appearance, feel or shape of your breasts.
The GP will examine you. If they think your symptoms need further assessment, they'll refer you to a specialist breast cancer clinic.
- Mammogram and breast ultrasound:
Your doctor may suggest that you only have a breast ultrasound scan if you’re under the age of 35.
- A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray exam of the breasts to look for changes that are not normal. The results are recorded on x-ray film or directly into a computer for a doctor, called a radiologist, to examine.
- Mammograms are used as part of a screening plan to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease between the ages of 45 to 69 every 2 years. Mammograms are generally considered safe, and are quick and relatively painless.
- Needle aspiration and biopsy.
A breast cancer risk factor is anything that makes it more likely you'll get breast cancer. But having one or even several breast cancer risk factors doesn't necessarily mean you'll develop breast cancer. Many women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors other than simply being women.
Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include:
- Being female. Women are much more likely than men are to develop breast cancer.
- Increasing age. Your risk of breast cancer increases as you age.
- A personal history of breast conditions. If you've had a breast biopsy that found lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia of the breast, you have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- A personal history of breast cancer. If you've had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
- A family history of breast cancer. If your mother, sister or daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Radiation exposure. If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, your risk of breast cancer is increased.
- Obesity. Being obese increases your risk of breast cancer.
- Beginning your period at a younger age. Beginning your period before age 12 increases your risk of breast cancer.
- Beginning menopause at an older age. If you began menopause at an older age, you're more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Having your first child at an older age. Women who give birth to their first child after age 30 may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Having never been pregnant. Women who have never been pregnant have a greater risk of breast cancer than do women who have had one or more pregnancies.
- Drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
Treating breast cancer If cancer is detected at an early stage, it can be treated before it spreads to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is treated using a combination of:
Surgery is usually the first type of treatment you'll have, followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy or, in some cases, hormone or targeted treatments.
The type of surgery and the treatment you have afterwards will depend on the type of breast cancer you have. Your doctor should discuss the best treatment plan with you. In a small proportion of women, breast cancer is discovered after its spread to other parts of the body (metastatic breast cancer). Secondary cancer, also called advanced or metastatic cancer, is not curable, so the aim of treatment is to relieve symptoms.
Making changes in your daily life may help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Try to:
- Ask your doctor about breast cancer screening starting from the age of 45 years and above.
- Become familiar with your breasts through breast self-exam for breast awareness.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
- Exercise most days of the week.
- Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Choose a healthy diet.