Today, the 19th of October, the World Health Organization celebrates the International Day against Breast Cancer to raise awareness about this disease, its controls, diagnoses and treatments.
Breast cancer is one the most common cancer in Europe that affects mostly women, and it’s responsible for 14,3% of death from cancer in the feminine sex.
But what is this type of disease?
The breast is formed by a set of glands and adipose tissue. Glandular structures, called lobules, form together a lobe. In a breast, there are from 15 to 20 lobes. Cancer starts when cells start to grow uncontrollably.
Most breast lumps are benign and not cancerous. They are big excrescence that does not extend outside the breast. So they are not dangerous for women’s lives, but some types of benign breast lumps could raise the threat of getting breast cancer. In general, all the breast cells could cause cancer, but tumours usually start from lobules or glandular cells that form ducts.
Warning signs of breast cancer
Not every time, breast cancer has evident symptoms and sometimes is diagnosed during mammography. The most common symptom of breast cancer is the presence of a new lump or mass. It could usually be painless or have an irregular edge, but it could also be round, soft and sore.
Other types of signs could be:
– Swelling of all or just a section of the breast, also if no lump is present
– Aspect variations of breast skin as the presence of dimples, flaking, redness near the nipples, or sink looking like an orange peel
– Breast or nipple pain
– Turning inward of nipples
– Release of liquid from nipples other than breast milk
– Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone
Diagnosis and prevention of breast cancer
Screening to diagnose breast cancer includes medical examination of the female breast, such as palpation, mammography and biopsy. This last exam consists of removing tissue to check if cancerous cells start to grow.
For now, it’s not possible to talk about prevention but early diagnosis and risk reduction. Screening should start from 20 years old with an annual check-up with a breast specialist and a mammography every 2 years after 50 years old.
Another thing that everyone can do is self-palpation of the breast. This consists of two different actions: observation and palpation.
Observation consists of looking bosom in front of a mirror. Usually, breasts are not completely equal, but they are symmetrical and with a regular profile. The observation lets us see some irregularity soon in shape, colour and consistency. There are three different positions to do frontally and laterally. First, put the shoulders relaxed and the arms along the hips. Another position consists of lifting up arms upon the head. The last is to place the palms of the hands on the forehead to induct the contraction of pectoral muscles.
Palpation is basically the tactile inspection of the breast. It’s necessary to fold the arm of the breast interested, keeping the hand under the neck and the elbow pointed laterally. At this moment, start to touch the breasts with circular movements, pressing gradually, moving from the top down and from the nipples to the outer part, to draw a sort of star. Examine the axillary region and the area near the breastbone.
Palpation is concluded with the nipple exam. This check consists of gently pressing the nipple with the index finger and thumb to verify if there are some discharges and look at the colour.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and many associations are at the forefront to screen and give information about the topic.
Don’t underestimate the importance of an early diagnosis!