Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women around the world. Its presence increases with age, but it can also affect younger women, with a quarter of cases being diagnosed before the age of 50. Breast cancer develops in the cells of the mammary gland: this is called adenocarcinoma. It is influenced by female hormones and is more likely to occur in women who have early puberty or late menopause, women who have not had children or who are taking hormone replacement therapy. A genetic component is also involved, which explains the increased risk when breast cancer has affected a family member. The development of organized screening of breast cancer can help diagnose cancers at an earlier stage, and enable rapid support with improved survival. Note that breast cancer can also affect men.
Many symptoms may occur in a woman even in the absence of cancer. However, if one or more of these symptoms are present, it is strongly advised to consult a doctor to ensure their benign character.
- presence of a lump in the breast. It comes in the form of a ball that does not move and seems rooted in the breast. In general, it is not painful;
- presence of a lymph node of increased volume in the armpit;
- changes in the skin and nipple;
- leaking from one nipple.
The clinical diagnosis is made by palpation of the breast, the aim being to identify any abnormal masses, but also by the search for enlarged lymph nodes. The doctor will then perform a bilateral mammography, radiography of both breasts to better see the appearance of the mass. An ultrasound may be an alternative, especially in young women, whose breasts are denser. Most of the time, a biopsy of the mass is required. The sample is then analyzed. After confirmation of the cancerous nature of the lump, staging is done, i.e. a set of tests aimed at investigating the possible spread of cancer to other organs.
Cancer treatment depends on the stage of the tumor, its size and the results of staging, the number and location of other affected organs. In general, the preferred solution is to remove the tumor if the stage is not too advanced. Depending on the size, the surgeon may proceed with the removal of only the tumor, called a lumpectomy, or a complete removal of the breast, a mastectomy. The breast can be reconstructed surgically. Nearby lymph nodes will be tested. Radiotherapy or chemotherapy may also be implemented. In some cases, treatment with hormones decreases the frequency of recurrences.
Preventing breast cancer itself is not possible, but the early detection of tumors at early stages enables treatment to be quickly implemented. A woman can perform a self-examination and consult a doctor if she discovers a suspicious mass. In addition, routine screening organized in France by a mammogram of both breasts every two years, with a reading by two different radiologists, is recommended for women between the ages of 50 and 75.