The first symptoms of breast cancer. Who is at risk?

Breast cancer is one of the causes of high mortality in women. To date, the success of the treatment of most cancers types directly depends on timely diagnosis and, consequently, the later recourse to medical care leads to tragic consequences. Therefore, every woman needs to know by what early signs it is possible to suspect breast cancer and who gets into a group of high risk of this disease.

Early signs of breast cancer

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Every woman needs regular self-examination. To do this, it is enough to go to the mirror and carefully examine your chest. In most cases, the following symptoms can be seen:

  • Deformation
  • Swelling
  • unreasonable augmentation or reduction of the breast
  • changes in the nipple or areola area: erosion, retracted nipple, and nipple discharge that are not connected with pregnancy and feeding
  • changes on the skin that look like "lemon crust"
  • a painless dense formation or a densified area in the mammary gland that can be felt by hand.

If you notice one of the above signs, you should immediately call your doctor and be examined. But even if it seems visually that there are no problems, every woman over 40 (such practice exists in Israel) should regularly, at least once a year, undergo a mammogram. It is also important for women under 40 to be examined by a doctor: annually consult a gynecologist and perform ultrasound of the mammary glands. Studies show, about 80% of all ill women were able to notice the first symptoms of breast cancer independently. Basically, among all the detected tumoral formations, most of it turns out to be benign. But the help of a specialist – a mammologist is needed in any case. 
It is important to remember that the disease, detected at an early stage, is completely curable in almost 90% of cases, and the third stage can be treated only by 40%.

Groups and risk factors

A risk factor is any condition or effect that increases the likelihood of the disease. Different types of cancer are associated with various risk factors. It is important to know that the mere fact of having one or even several risk factors for breast cancer does not mean that a woman will automatically fall ill. Cancer will not develop in a number of women with these factors, whereas in a significant number of patients with breast cancer there are no obvious risk factors. That is why risk factors are divided into groups.

Group of moderate risk

  • Age. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. About 77% of patients with diagnosed breast cancer are over 50, and half of them are 65 or older.
  • Kinship. Breast cancer among close relatives (mother, sister or daughter) increases the risk of getting sick. The risk is even greater if the cancer of a relative is detected before the onset of her menopause.
  • Genetic factors. The risk is elevated in carriers of altered forms of either of the two genes associated with the "family form" of breast cancer. These are the so-called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Woman with a hereditary mutation of any of these genes, the risk of developing breast cancer throughout life is close to 80%.

Group of slightly increased risk

  • Breast cancer among distant relatives (refers to cases of cancer among relatives of not the first degree of kinship: grandmothers, aunts, cousins, etc.).
  • Deviations as a results of previous biopsies. If the results of a biopsy ever indicated the presence of complex component fibroadenomas, hyperplasias, solitary papillomas, then the risk increases insignificantly.
  • Age over 30 at the birth of the first child.
  • Early onset of menstruation. The risk rises if the first menstruation occurred earlier than 12 years.
  • Late menopause. The risk of breast cancer is higher with the onset of menopause after age 55.
  • Other types of cancer in the family history. The presence of ovarian, cervical or uterine cancer cases in relatives increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Long-term use of combined preparations of estrogen and progesterone increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer is not a sentence

To date, breast cancer is not a "verdict". In modern medicine, there are different methods of fighting the disease: radiation and drug therapy (including targeted), surgical intervention.

The strategy of treating breast cancer depends on many factors: the type of cancer, the stage, the sensitivity of tumor cells to hormones, the immunohistochemical characteristics of the tumor, and the general condition of the patient. The main radical treatment for breast cancer is surgical. If the disease has been diagnosed at an early stage, the surgeon can remove the tumor tissue with a small part of the surrounding healthy tissue (lumpectomy). For larger tumors, the mammary gland should be removed entirely (mastectomy), as well as the lymph nodes that are closest to it, which may contain metastases. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are usually used after surgery to destroy cancer cells that could remain in the body. And also before the surgery in order to reduce the size of the tumor and greater effectiveness of the intervention. To treat a breast tumor that is sensitive to hormones, hormone therapy is used.
The modern approach to treat a cancer of a mammary gland, which is also applied by oncologists is a target therapy – the preparations arriving directly to fabrics of a tumor and minimally influencing healthy cells of an organism. Target therapy is used either alone or in combination with other treatments. It should be remembered that the maximum effectiveness and safety of antitumor treatment is achieved in the case of timely early diagnosis and strict compliance with international protocols, taking into account the individual characteristics of the patient. This is how the treatment is prescribed by the oncologists of Herzliya Medical Center.

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