Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatment

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer amongst women in India. It occurs very rarely in men.

Breast cancer accounts for 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women. It is responsible for 18.2% of all cancer deaths worldwide, both male and female.

Regular breast examination is very necessary to detect any abnormality right at the outset.

If you detect any abnormalities during a self examination of your breasts you need to contact your family physician or a general physician without delay.

Depending on the results of further examination, your doctor may refer you to an oncologist.

How does breast cancer occur?

The cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell, usually in the inner lining of the milk ducts or lobules in the breast. If it is diagnosed when the cancerous cells are still within the duct, or lobule, it is known as Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), which is is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. One in five new breast cancer cases are DCIS. A carcinoma in situ is easier to treat.

Unfortunately, most breast cancers are diagnosed when a tumour has spread from within a duct into the surrounding breast tissue. This is known as invasive breast cancer. Invasive breast cancer is further divided into:

  • One where cancer cells have invaded the lymphatic vessels
  • One where the cancer cancer cells have not yet invaded the lymphatic vessels

If the cancer cells have moved into your lymph nodes there is a chance that they have spread to other areas of your body including, organs. Removing one or two lymph nodes, through surgery, is required to find out whether the cancer has spread.

Who is prone to breast cancer?

You’re at a risk of developing breast cancer if you:

  • are a woman older than 50 years

  • have already had cancer in one breast

  • have a family history of breast cancer

  • have inherited certain gene mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 - which account for 5% - 10 % of breast cancer cases). This has been much in news of late and has also been nicknamed as the, “Jolie effect” after Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood actress who highlighted how genetic testing can prevent breast cancer.

  • have been exposed to chest radiation for any treatment during your childhood years, or before menopause

  • began menstruating before 12 years of age

  • had your first child after the age of 29 years, or if you do not have a child at all. The opposite is true if you have a family history of breast cancer.  Meaning if you have a family history of breast cancer your risk will be minimized if your first child is born after 29 years or if you do not have any child at all.

  • undergo menopause after the age of 54 years

  • have a higher breast density

What are the symptoms of breast cancer? How is breast cancer diagnosed?

The vital symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A painless lump in the breast, near the collarbone, or under the arm ( however, not all lumps are cancerous, some are benign)

  • Nipple tenderness or changes in the shape of the nipple, such as an inverted nipple

  • Breast pain which does not go away after your next period

  • Skin of the breast, nipple, or areola suddenly becoming tender, or itchy, or scaly, or sore, or red

  • Sudden asymmetry of breasts such as, sudden swelling of a breast, or sudden shrinking of a breast

  • Nipple discharge from one of the breasts which can be clear or bloody

Diagnosis

After asking you about your symptoms, the doctor will thoroughly examine your breasts for any lumps, or any changes in the skin texture, and changes in the nipples.

If the symptoms are found to be positive the doctor will suggest imaging tests to find out what is going on inside your body, such as:

  • Mammograms: which is an x-ray of the breast and helps to detect any abnormalities in the breast.

  • Breast Ultrasound: is often used to check any abnormal results of a mammogram. An ultrasound reveals whether the breast lump is filled with fluid ( cyst) or it is a solid lump.

  • Biopsies: wherein, tissues are removed from the suspicious area, and are examined under a microscope. The tissue is further tested to find out if it is cancerous.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): is a procedure in which large magnets and radio frequencies are used to search for cancer. MRI does not use X - rays so, there is no radiation exposure. This captures multiple images of breast tissue n the inside.
  • Ductogram: is used to identify the cause of nipple discharge.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): is a procedure in which large magnets and radio frequencies are used to search for cancer. MRI does not use X - rays so, there is no radiation exposure. This captures multiple images of breast tissue n the inside.

Ductogram: is used to identify the cause of nipple discharge.

What are the complications of breast cancer?

Breast cancer surgery, though considered safe, may give rise to a number of complications.

Psychological complications include:

  • fear

  • anxiety

  • loss of sleep

  • loss of sexual interest

  • depression due to possible physical changes resulting from the intensive treatments

Secondary physical issues may crop up such as :

  • inflamed lung tissue

  • heart damage

  • secondary cancers

Some complications that may occur after the surgery include:

  • hematoma or buildup of blood under your skin

  • seroma or buildup of fluid on the site of the surgery

  • lymphedema or swelling of the arm on the side of the surgery

  • reactions to the anesthesia

Chemotherapy is used to treat various stages of breast cancer. It may give rise to complications, such as:

  • low immunity 7-14 days after undergoing chemotherapy and thus prone to infections

  • hair loss and thinning due to chemotherapy

  • nausea and vomiting episodes after chemotherapy

  • constipation or diarrhea

  • dental and mouth problems, such as, sore gums, mouth ulcers

  • dry skin and brittle  nails

  • constant exhaustion

  • infertility

  • early menopause

  • menopausal symptoms (hot flashes and vaginal symptoms)

What is the treatment for breast cancer?

Exercise

Research shows exercise is safe during and after cancer treatment. It can strengthen your physical body. And the stronger you are before surgery, the quicker you can recover from it.

Before you decide to start on an exercise regimen, it will be wise to consult with your doctor and find out what kind of exercises suit you the most.

You may need the help of a physical therapist if you have never exercised before.

 

Medical treatments

Depending upon the type and stage of your breast cancer, there are several ways to treat it such as:
 
  • Surgery

  • Radiation therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Hormone therapy

  • Targeted therapy

 

Treatments for all the patients can be a mix of these different types, based on the condition of the cancer.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Breast Cancer ?

Patient Experiences

RM Raina
Breast Cancer Surgery
On 23rd Sept 2016, Dr Badwe, the brilliant surgeon and Director of Tata Memorial Cancer hospital in Mumbai, performed mastectomy on my 81-year-old wife Indira. This just saved her ... Read More
Doctor in this story :Dr. Rajendra Badwe
Tata Memorial Hospital, Noida
Verified Patient
Physiotherapy After Breast Cancer Surgery
I am glad to present my experience as a patient of Mr. Thomas. About 5 years back I underwent surgery for breast cancer. After the surgery my arm started to swell and became heavy ... Read More
Doctor in this story : Mr. Thomas Jefferson
Dr. Thomas Jefferson's Clinic, Coimbatore
Syed Afzalunnisa
Breast Cancer Treatment
My mother in law is suffering from breast cancer and is his patient.We have been seeing him since last december and have had a good experience with him as he explained to us what i... Read More
Doctor in this story :Dr. Narender kumar Thota
Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS), Hyderabad

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User

I have a pain in my right side breast and there is a hard lump inside, when pressed gives pain. Can it be dangerous in any way? Is it a tumor or something? Please help!

any breast lump has to be evaluated to rule out malignancy. You should meet a surgical oncologist and get yourself evaluated

Verified User

I get too worried about Breast Cancer..at times I feel there is a lump in my Left Breast.. At times it pains a lot..I have checked myself and there is no need to worry. But I still feel tensed.. Can you tell me how Breast cancer can be avoided? And what are the symptoms of it?

Self examination is the simplest way to check yourself.But if you still feel unsure,best is to meet an oncologist.Breast cancer presents usually presents as a lump in the breast,Dimpling of skin, changes in Nipple.

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Specialists for Breast Cancer

Did you know?

Most common form of cancer

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in most cities in India and the second most common in rural areas.

Breast cancer forms 1/4th of all female cancer cases

Breast cancer accounts for 25% to 32% of all female cancers in all the major cities in India.

Young women are affected too

There is a sudden surge of breast cancer cases among the women in the younger age groups of 30 - 40 years

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Home remedies for Breast Cancer

Eat Garlic Cloves

Eat 4-5 cloves of raw garlic everyday. Garlic is a rich source of cancer-fighting compound called allium. Garlic and its related root vegetables (onion, leeks, scallions, and chives) are known to slow tumour growth and prevent breast cancer.

Drink green Tea

It is known to kill cancer cells and does not affect healthy cells.

Eat Grapes

Grapes are known to have anti inflammatory properties and combat cancer cells .

Brazil nuts

Uniquely rich in selenium, fibre, and phytochemicals, Brazil nuts can help fight inflammation, prevent tumour growth and strengthen your immune system.

Pomegranate

This is highly recommended for preventing breast cancer. It contains polyphenol which has antioxidant properties that prevent cancer growth.

Dark Green Leafy vegetables

From kale, collards to spinach and Swiss chard, dark-green leafy vegetables probably are considered to have the best nutrients i.e. fibre, vitamin B, phytochemicals, chlorophyll, that fend off cancerous cells, and more.

Whole grains

Rich in fibre, essential vitamins and minerals, whole grains such as quinoa, barley, oats, amaranth, brown rice, and whole wheat over their refined, white counterparts are ideal foods for those suffering from cancer.

Broccoli and broccoli sprouts

A vegetable belonging to same family as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, broccoli is rich in sulforaphane and indoles, which are shown to regulate cell growth in multiple ways and help fight a range of cancers, which include breast cancer, lymphoma, prostate and lung cancer.

Increase Intake of Vitamin D

Vitamin D can be found in milk, eggs, and cod liver oil. It regulates cell growth and prevents cancer.
Book an appointment with a medical oncologist