What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer begins when healthy breast cells change and grow out of control, usually forming a mass called a tumour. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women in the India. Men can also develop breast cancer, but it is rare.
What are the parts of the breast?
Most of the breast is fatty tissue. However, it also contains a network of lobes that are made up of tiny, tube-like structures called lobules that contain milk glands. Tiny ducts connect the glands, lobules, and lobes, and carry milk from the lobes to the nipple. Most breast cancers begin in the cells lining the milk ducts and are called ductal carcinomas. The second most common type starts in the lobules and is called lobular carcinoma.
What does stage mean?
The stage is a way of describing where the cancer is located, how much the cancer has grown, and if or where it has spread. There are 5 stages for breast cancer: stage 0 (zero), which is called noninvasive cancer or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), and stages I through IV (1 through 4).
How is breast cancer treated?
The biology and behaviour of breast cancer affect the treatment plan, and every person’s cancer is different. Doctors consider many factors when recommending a treatment plan, including the cancer’s stage; the tumour’s human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) status and the hormone receptor status, which includes estrogen receptors (ER) and progesterone receptors (PR); the presence of known mutations (changes) in breast cancer genes; and the woman’s age, general health, and whether she has gone through menopause. For earlier stages of cancer, surgery to remove the tumour and nearby lymph nodes usually is the first treatment. Additional treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, or targeted therapy is usually given after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer returning. These treatments may also be given before surgery to shrink the size of the tumour. The treatment of cancer that has spread or come back after treatment depends on many factors. It can include the therapies listed above used in a different combination or at a different pace. The side effects of breast cancer treatment can be reduced or managed with a variety of medications and the help of your health care team. This is called palliative care or supportive care and is an important part of the overall treatment plan. Regular communication is important in making informed decisions about your health care. It can be helpful to bring someone along to your appointments to take notes and understand.
Consider asking your health care team the following questions:
1. What type of breast cancer do I have?
2. Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?
3. What stage is the breast cancer? What does this mean?
4. What is the ER, PR and HER2 status?
5. Would you explain my treatment options?
6. What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?
7. What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the cancer, help me feel better, or both?
8. Who will be part of my treatment team, and what does each member do?
9. How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?
10. Will this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children?
11. What long-term side effects may be associated with my cancer treatment?
12. If I’m worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me?