In the first part of our four part series on Breast Cancer, we outlined what exactly is breast cancer, what are its phases, symptoms and common causes . In this second part, we explain the diagnostic procedures and treatment options.

Breast Cancer Diagnosis

If one notices a lump in the breast while performing a regular self examination and the lump does not go away after a couple of weeks, the next step should be to consult a doctor.

The doctor then diagnoses the lump by performing a mammogram (breast screening which uses X-ray images for detecting any abnormal cell growth). This may be accompanied by an ultrasound (high frequency sound images which are then converted into photographic images) or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for a precise diagnosis.

These tests can distinguish a malignant (cancerous) lump from a non malignant lump. The results can then be confirmed through a biopsy. The complete medical history of the patient is also taken into account.

Questions One Should Ask The Doctor

It is understandable that one will get overwhelmed learning about the fact that one has this cancer (and go through a range of emotions from shock, fear, denial, anger to guilt and finally acceptance), but at the same time it is important to gather one’s thoughts, and ask questions that may be important from the point of view of deciding the next course of action.

Here are some of the questions one may ask –

  1. Information on the lump (size and appearance).
  2. What is the extent of the spread?
  3. What are the possible causes?
  4. What are the different treatment options, comparative analysis, the costs and time frames?
  5. What are the side effects of these options?
  6. What precautions should you exercise?
  7. What are the available support groups to deal with the cancer?

Treatment Options

The various treatment options of breast cancer depend on the size of the tumor, the extent of spread, the age and other health issues of the patient.

Some of the procedures used include –

  1. Lumpectomy, in which only the abnormal growth cells are removed from the breast tissues. This is usually the most common form of treatment of breast cancer in the initial stages.
  2. Breast Surgery, also known as Mastectomy, is a part of the localized method of treatment that destroys the cancerous tissues within the location of its occurrence by removing whole or part of the breast.
  3. Radiation Therapy,  like chemotherapy, kills the cancerous cells that may have spread to the other parts of the body. Though this technique uses controlled amounts of high energy radiations to destroy the cancer cells, there is a possibility of destroying the good cells too. There are a number of side effects of chemotherapy like nausea, hot flashes, fatigue, hair loss, loss of appetite, etc.
  4. Hormone Therapy (endocrine therapy, or using aromatase inhibitors that lower estrogen levels), sentinel lymph node biopsies and biological therapy (that uses antibodies like Herceptin to attack cancer cells) are the other options.Side effects of these treatment options include increased risk of osteoporosis, hot flashes, headache, nausea, fatigue, skin rash, difficulty in breathing, allergic reactions etc.

You can also read about:

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer – Prevention and Recurrence

Breast Cancer – Coping and Support