Health & Personal Care

A holistic guide to detect and treat breast cancer effectively

A holistic guide to detect and treat breast cancer effectively

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the breast cells and affects the lobules or the ducts of the breast. The gland which produces milk is the lobule and the pathways through which milk is brought from the glands to the nipple are the ducts. In some cases, the cancer also develops in the fatty tissues of the breast. Cancer cells travel to other parts of the body through lymph nodes that are found under the arms. It is more commonly found in women and is one of the most common cancers affecting people around the world.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer
Symptoms and signs of breast cancer may vary from person to person. Initially, breast cancer might not show any symptoms, as the tumor is too small in size. However, getting a mammogram is always the best option to detect breast cancer. Let’s go through the symptoms for a better understanding of the condition.

  • An abnormal lump or a knot
  • Change in the shape, color, size, or appearance of the breast
  • Pain or tenderness in the breast
  • Inverted nipple
  • Peeling or flaking of areola or breast skin
  • Swelling in breast
  • Bloody discharge
  • Irritation in breast skin
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Changes in bowel habits, with discomfort after meals
  • Heaviness while breathing
  • Unexplained hot flushes, night sweats

All lumps are not cancerous, but it’s always good to be wary. So get in touch with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Causes of breast cancer
Technically, breast cancer occurs when a few cells in the breast grow in an unusual manner. Cancerous cells divide at great speed and accumulate, making a lump or mass. Though not proven, studies show that lifestyle, hormones, and environment play a major role in the occurrence of breast cancer. Genes can be responsible for breast cancer too. According to experts, most cases of gene mutations are passed from one generation to another. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, you should get yourself tested at regular intervals.

Risk factors of breast cancer
There are many other factors that can be held responsible for developing breast cancer, which put you at a higher risk. Here are some:

  • Gender
    Women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer than men.
  • Age
    Though there is no specific age for breast cancer to appear, it is more common in older women. So, it’s advisable to get mammograms post 40.
  • Personal history of breast conditions
    If you have ever suffered from atypical hyperplasia of the breast or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), you are more prone to get breast cancer.
  • Personal history of breast cancer
    If you were ever diagnosed with cancer in one breast, you are more likely to get cancer in the other breast as well.
  • Exposure to radiations
    Exposure to radiation treatments at an young age can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Weight issue
    If you are overweight or obese, you are at a high risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Early periods
    If your menstrual cycle had begun before the age of 12, you are at a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Late menopause
    Beginning of menopause at a late age also makes you more prone to this disease.
  • Having your first child at an older age
    If you had your first child after 30, you are more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Never conceiving
    Women who never conceive are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy
    Hormone therapy medications, used to treat symptoms of menopause, can put women at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Alcohol and smoking
    Habits of drinking alcohol and smoking can increase the risk of breast cancer and even passive smoking can affect you.
  • Certain health conditions
    Chronic health conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, can also increase the risk of breast cancer.

Treatment options for breast cancer
The stage of cancer, how far it has spread, and the size of tumor will determine the kind of treatment one may receive. Let’s discuss what all treatments are available to treat breast cancer.

Various kinds of surgeries may be used for the removal of breast cancer. Here are some of them.

  • Lumpectomy
    In this procedure, the tumor and some surrounding tissues are removed, and the breast remains intact.
  • Mastectomy
    In this procedure, the entire breast is removed. If it’s a double mastectomy, both breasts are removed.
  • Sentinel node biopsy
    In this procedure, a few lymph nodes are removed to prevent drainage from the tumor. These nodes are then tested to check malignancy.
  • Axillary lymph node dissection
    If the lymph nodes removed in sentinel node biopsy are cancerous, other lymph nodes will also be removed.
  • Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy
    To prevent the spread of cancer in the other breast, women can opt to get the healthy breast removed.

Radiation therapy
In radiation therapy, cancer cells are killed using high-powered radiation beams. Mostly, external radiation beams are used. However, brachytherapy is also used these days, which places a radioactive seed near the tumor inside the body and it is kept for a few days to destroy the cancer cells.

In this procedure, medicinal treatment is used to destroy the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is often used after surgery, but in many cases, only chemotherapy suffices. Many times, oncologists use chemotherapy before the surgery to shrink the tumor. Chemotherapy may be given orally through pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow, or through intravenous (IV), injection, intrathecal, intraperitoneal (IP), intra-arterial (IA), and topical means.

Hormone therapy
Breast cancer is one such type of cancer that is fueled by your body’s hormones. Female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, can also trigger the growth of breast cancer tumors. Hormone therapy removes those hormones from the body or blocks their effects, which may cause the cancer cells to stop from growing.

Certain medications are specifically formulated to attack mutations within cancer cells. One such medicine is Herceptin (trastuzumab). It blocks the body’s production of HER2 protein. HER2 is responsible for the growth of breast cancer cells, and this medication is prescribed to slow down the cancer growth.

Natural remedies
Besides medications, surgeries, and therapies, natural remedies can also help in dealing with the symptoms of breast cancer and manage the side effects of all the treatments. But before using any of them, consult your doctor.

  • Massage therapy
    In massage therapy, the skin and muscles are manually massaged, energizing the tissues. It relaxes them and also helps in combating pain and anxiety. Many doctors recommend massage therapy under the guidance of a therapist, to deal with stress and depression, which is common after breast cancer is diagnosed. It also helps improve a person’s quality of life.
  • Tai chi and qi gong
    Tai chi and qi gong are movement-based exercises, which balance the natural energies in the body. They mainly involve focusing on breathing and meditation. Both these therapies reduce stress and pain, and work on mental health as well. Doctors recommend these therapies as some people have found them effective to cope with the side effects of radiation or chemotherapy. Mood enhancement and improvement of quality of life are other benefits.
  • Biofeedback
    Biofeedback is a kind of therapy that helps people to control reflexive aspects of the body, such as muscle tension, blood pressure, and heart rate. During a therapy session, an electrical device is connected to a person that provides visual or auditory signals on any physiological change in the body. This way, the person learns to control the functions. Biofeedback therapy helps cancer patients in managing symptoms and side effects of treatment.
  • Diet
    Diet is another important aspect of natural remedies that helps breast cancer patients to recover and cope with the symptoms and side effects to a large extent. Following a nutritious and balanced diet will promote good health, reduce fatigue, and support the body during treatments.
  • Supplements
    Supplements such as green tea, turmeric, Echinacea, garlic, ginseng, and black cohosh can benefit people during cancer treatments and support the body as well. These natural herbs help manage anxiety, nausea, depression, or appetite loss.
  • Holistic therapies
    Women suffering from breast cancer often go through trauma and depression. Holistic therapies have proved beneficial in combating the side effects of treatments, as they balance a person mentally, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote relaxation. Some holistic therapies are meditation, aromatherapy, journaling, art therapy, music therapy, and dance therapy.

Foods to eat
According to studies, there is no specific food or diet that can help breast cancer patients recover. However, there are many foods that can help you prevent the occurrence or recurrence of the disease and cope with the symptoms and side effects of treatments. It’s advisable to consult your doctor before including or excluding any food item in your diet though. Here are some foods you can have.

  • Water
    Staying hydrated is very important to fight the side effects of cancer treatments. So, try to drink at least two to three liters of water every day.
  • Proteins
    Proteins help maintain your muscles. You can have meat, seafood, eggs, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts, soy, dairy products, fish, and poultry. Vegetables and whole grains also contain proteins.
  • Whole grains
    Whole grains are high in fiber, magnesium, proteins, carbohydrates, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Studies reveal that a fibrous diet helps by changing the hormonal actions of breast cancer. You can include brown rice, oatmeal, farro, barley, finger millet, and corn in your diet.
  • Healthy drinks
    Green tea has numerous benefits and also helps in cancer prevention, as it is loaded with antioxidants, including polyphenol and catechins. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Pomegranate juice also contains polyphenols that help in cell protection. Studies also suggest that pomegranate juice prevents the risk of breast cancer, but if you suffer from diabetes, consult your doctor before adding it to your diet.
  • Fruits
    Fruits such as black raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, plums, and peaches are loaded with polyphenols, which have anti-cancer properties. They also reduce the risk of breast cancer. Fruits rich in vitamin C, such as cherries, oranges, guavas, black currant, kiwis, litchis, figs, blueberries, mangoes, papayas, and strawberries promote a healthy immune system.
  • Vegetables
    Cruciferous vegetables contain antioxidant vitamins, such as C, E, and K and are fibrous as well. These vegetables have cancer-fighting properties. You can add broccoli, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage to your diet. Aim to have at least two servings of vegetables per day. Dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, collard, turnip, beet greens, and Swiss chard also have high levels of antioxidants.
  • Fish and seafood
    Fish such as salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, sardines, rainbow trout, and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Doctors might recommend you to include seafood in your diet and you can have them twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in walnuts and flaxseeds. If you are not fond of eating fish or if you are vegan, you can ask your doctors about omega-3 fatty acids supplements.
  • Spices
    Capsaicin, found in chili peppers, can help reduce pain and also stall the growth and spread of breast cancer. Garlic works by reducing breast cancer cell growth. Studies reveal that garlic and onion have a positive effect on both estrogen-dependent and estrogen-independent breast cancer. Turmeric contains curcumin that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which arrest cancer cell growth.

To conclude, this article must have helped you to understand breast cancer, its symptoms, causes, and treatments well. If you feel or notice any of the signs or symptoms mentioned here, do consult a doctor at the earliest. Timely diagnosis can save your life!

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