What Is Breast Lump & How To Treat Breast Cancer?

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womaen holding pink ribbon breast cancer awareness. concept healthcare and medicine; Shutterstock ID 1032241969; job: Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM)

Breast cancer is a common type of cancer in women. As per a survey 1 out of 8 women suffer from breast cancer in just the US alone. It accounts for 30% of the new cancer cases. This does not impact just women, men are also at risk. These cancerous cells can also spread to other parts of the body. Hence it is important to know about breast cancer. The info given below will help give a better insight into breast cancer and different treatment methods. 

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer where cells in the breast grow uncontrollably. The breast is made of lobules, connective tissue, and ducts. The glands that produce milk are the lobules, the ducts carry the milk to the nipple and the connective tissue holds together all the parts of the breast. Commonly breast cancers are found in the ducts and lobules and spread through the lymph and blood vessels. The type of breast cancer depends on the cells in the breast that have turned cancerous. 

Breast cancer can also develop from tumors. Tumors are formed when the cells grow abnormally and begin to spread to the tissues resulting in cancerous tumors. If cancer spreads to the other parts of the body it is metastasized and if the cells do not invade other tissues it is called benign tumors. Hence any lump formation in the breasts needs to be looked into and treated at the earliest possible. All lumps are not cancerous but proper diagnosis is vital. 

How does a Breast Lump look like?

The way the lump feels depends on the location, growth, and cause. Sometimes these lumps are very painful, hard and immobile.  In a few other cases, it can be moveable, painless and soft. More often than not, if you find a lump that is immobile, hard, uneven shaped and cause pain, it can be cancerous. If the lump is a fibroadenoma then it will be painless, smooth and tends to disappear without any treatment. If it is a cyst it will be smooth but firm. If it is mastitis or an abscess, it is painful with swollen lumps. 

Other Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Apart from lump, some of the other symptoms are:

  • Swelling in a part, or the whole breast
  • Discharge from the nipple which is other than breastmilk
  • Scaling, skin irritation, redness on the breast and nipples
  • Swelling in the collarbone, arm, and armpit
  • Nipple turning inward
  • The breast and nipple skin become thick

Treating Breast Cancer

There are several treatment options to treat breast cancer. The type of treatment depends on the kind and how much it has spread. One or more treatment options will have to be undertaken and includes:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormonal therapy
  • Biological therapy
  • Radiation therapy 
  • Surgery

Surgery for Breast Cancer

In most cases, women who have breast cancer will have to undergo surgery. The most common types of surgery are lumpectomy and mastectomy.

Lumpectomy

It is a procedure where the malignant tumors or abnormal tissues along with a tiny portion of the breast tissues are removed surgically. This tissue is then tested to find if it has cancerous cells. If the cells in the tissue samples are found to be cancerous, additional treatment is provided. Radiation therapy, RT is the most common treatment that supplements surgery. The RT is usually done for at least 6 weeks to kill the cancer cells that have not been removed during surgical removal of the tumor. 

It can be used to treat both invasive cancers and ductal carcinoma. It is the preferred surgical treatment as it can leave the natural appearance of the breast or can help in cosmetically improving the appearance. Only a small quantity of breast tissue is removed and is as effective in treating breast cancer. 

Process of Lumpectomy

  • Prior to the surgery, a mammogram is conducted. Blood and urine samples are taken for testing along with performing a fine-needle biopsy. 
  • A breast MRI may also be performed before the surgery to check if the surgery can be prevented.
  • Local anesthesia or general anesthesia is given before the procedure depending on how the surgery is conducted 
  • During the surgery, the surgeon makes an incision around the targeted area and cuts out the tumor. 
  • The goal is to remove all the tumors without damaging the breast
  • Another incision is made near the armpits so that a sample can be got to test for cancerous cells. 

Advantages of Lumpectomy

  • Helps to keep most of the breast tissue intact
  • There are very few changes to the body due to this surgery
  • The recovery time is only a few weeks

Mastectomy

It is a surgery done to remove the whole breast. There are many different types of mastectomy like simple, total, radical, modified radical, partial and subcutaneous. 

Simple or total mastectomy: The entire breast is removed and the surgeon does not dissect the axillary lymph nodes from the underarm area. Since these are located inside the breast they are mostly removed during surgery. This surgery is for women who have large areas of ductal carcinoma and also for those who want to remove the possibility of relapse.

Modified radical mastectomy: The lymph nodes and the breast tissues are removed along with taking out the entire breast. In this type of mastectomy, the breast muscles are left intact and people with invasive breast cancer usually consider this surgery. The lymph nodes are checked to see if there are cancerous cells and also to prevent spread to other areas. 

Radical mastectomy: In this procedure, the entire breast is removed which includes the lymph nodes. The chest wall muscles present under the breast is removed. This surgery is recommended for people whose cancer has spread to the chest muscles. These days it is not performed much as it is very disfiguring. 

Partial mastectomy: It is the removal of the cancerous breast tissues along with some normal tissues surrounding it. More tissue is removed from this procedure than lumpectomy. 

Subcutaneous mastectomy: The nipple is left untouched but all the breast tissues are removed. 

Advantages of Mastectomy

This surgery involves the removal of the whole breast. It has advantages like:

  • No need for radiation therapy after surgery
  • The chances of cancer coming back are very slim
  • If cancer does recur the affected areas alone can be treated with radiotherapy

The most challenging part of breast cancer is detecting it and hence it has to be screened regularly. If you find a lump it is recommended to consult a physician immediately.