Breast cancer is a type of cancer occurring mostly in the milk-producing glands called lobules or in the tubules which take the produced milk to the nipple. It can also be seen in other fibrous or fatty tissues of the breast. This article discusses the risk factors in the post-operative stage and nutrition in breast cancer.
Each and every activity of the cell is controlled and regulated by genes. The genes which are responsible for cell growth can get mutated for any reason causing abnormal replication of the cell. This forms a tumor. The cancer cells travel through lymph nodes and can spread to other healthy tissue in the breast then to other organs also. There are many kinds of breast cancers like invasive ductal carcinoma, ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive lobular carcinoma, lobular carcinoma in situ, angiosarcoma, Paget disease of the nipple and phyllodes tumor.
Let us understand the symptoms and treatment of breast cancer before we look at the risk factors in the postoperative stage and nutrition in breast cancer.
Breast cancer usually starts with the formation of lumps but not all lumps cause breast cancer. Some of them might be cysts or other benign growths. Some of the commonest symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Lumps in the breast
- Swelling of the breast
- Sudden change either in size or shape of the breast
- Discharge of blood from the nipple
- Nipple would be inverted
- Flaking of the nipple skin or anywhere on the breast
- Pain in the breast
- Any kind of discharge from the breast
- Red coloration
- Pits over the skin
Diagnosis and Treatment of Breast Cancer
In most of the cases, the early stages of breast cancer are not detectable as the mammograms cannot see the tumors. Also, all the lumps in the breast cannot be suspected as breast cancers. Diagnosis can be done with special techniques called ultrasound, mammogram, and biopsy of the breast.
Treatment for breast cancer depends upon the kind and stage of cancer. The stage of breast cancer can be decided based on the size of the tumor, whether the involvement of lymph tissue is there or not, whether it is invasive or noninvasive and on the spreading to the nearby tissues. There are several stages from 0 to 5. Out of these, stage 4 and 5 are very serious and need immediate medical treatment. Stage 4 is also called metastatic stage where the infection can be seen in surrounding organs like liver, bone and/or lungs.
The main treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, endocrine therapy, and targeted therapy.1 Based on the diagnosis, staging, and severity, the most appropriate treatment is planned. In surgery for breast cancer, removal of the whole breast, only the lumps with their surrounding tissues, cancerous spots and/or lymph nodes needs to be planned. Sometimes, the patients who have cancer in one breast opt for removal of the healthy breast also along with the affected breast to avoid the risk. Doctors may suggest additional treatments like hormone therapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or simply medications. These treatments are given separately to the patients in different situations or are given simultaneously with the surgery.
Risk Factors in Post-Operative Stage of Breast Cancer
Most commonly opted treatment for breast cancer is to remove the complete breast or a part of it. Surgery is carried out in various ways as mentioned above. Though there are safe and new techniques in surgery, some risk factors are associated with the surgery. It is necessary to know the risk factors in the post-operative stage in breast cancer.
Some of the commonest risk factors include the following:
- Most common are infections in and around the operated portion. It can be addressed by prescribing antibiotics.
- Breathing problems and problems with heart are common as the patient would be given general anesthesia during surgery.
- Surgery may rarely cause bleeding in excess. Transfusion of blood can be done to compensate.
- In some cases, lymphedema can occur after surgery as the lymph nodes struggle to send the lymph from the arm.
- Sometimes, surgery leads to hematoma and/or seroma though not common. In hematoma, blood is collected and in seroma, a clear fluid is accumulated in the wound. These will go off with time. They are drained surgically if do not go by themselves.
- In most of the patients who undergo surgery, nerve pain, numbness, difficulty in moving the shoulder may be noted but all these vanish over time.
- In a few other cases, due to insufficient oxygen supply to the tissue, death of cells may occur which is referred to as necrosis.
- After the surgery, the patient may not be comfortable and he/she may feel an imbalance in the position of the shoulder or back of the neck. Physiotherapy can attend this problem.
- Women after the surgery may face some cosmetic issues. This may include a slight displacement of the breast, a dent, scar, etc. These are attended by health professionals.
- While these are some of the possible risk factors in the post-operative stage in breast cancer, each person reacts differently. Hence, the occurrence of these issues and their severity may vary from person to person.
Nutrition in Breast Cancer
Some of the treatments of breast cancer are found to have their influence on the food and fluids which the patients consume. Hence, nutrition in breast cancer is essential to ensure effective recovery. the patients are advised to eat some foods and to avoid some by the dieticians or nutrition therapists.
As nutrition is important during the post-operative stage in breast cancer, a proper, therapeutic diet plan helps the patients undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Some patients will be taking either chemotherapy or radiotherapy along with surgery for breast cancer.
Foods to be included as a part of nutrition in breast cancer patients are as given below:
- Vitamin C rich foods are essential to repair the tissue after surgery. Fruits like kiwi, goji berries, citrus fruits, gooseberries are good in this condition.
- Cheese prepared from goat’s milk is rich in protein and calcium. It also contains molecules with a short chain and resembles the milk of humans. Hence it is easy to digest.
- The substances present in turmeric and garlic act as anti-inflammatories and support to recover fast.
- One more substance which reduces inflammation is omega 3 fatty acid. It is found in fish like salmon and fruit like avocado.
- Quinoa, amaranth, and lentils are rich in protein which helps in repairing the tissues.
- Good fats found in seeds, olive oil and nuts should be consumed.
- Whole grains rich in carbohydrates are good. It includes brown rice and oatmeal.
- Fish and chicken must be consumed frequently.
- Soy provides good health thus reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Foods to be avoided during and after surgery are:
Some people do not contain the enzymes required for digesting the lactose present in cow’s milk. So it is essential to avoid milk and dairy products for sometime after the surgery for breast cancer.
Inflammation is increased by refined sugars. So refined carbohydrates should be avoided in breast cancer.
Wheat contains a substance called gluten which enhances the inflammation. Breast cancer patients after surgery should avoid this.
The breast cancer patients should stop consuming alcohol if they have a habit of drinking it. It pressurizes the liver to breakdown the alcohol and also kidney to eliminate the unwanted by-products.
Fatty, greasy or fried foods and processed meat and/or red meat should be restricted.
Along with post-operative stage nutrition in breast cancer, the patients should also make some lifestyle changes to be healthy throughout the treatment of breast cancer. Since radiation therapy and chemotherapy are sometimes given simultaneously with surgery, changes in lifestyle and modification of diet should concentrate on such factors also. Some of them are as follows:
- Mouth care is to be taken during and after chemotherapy since irritates the inner lining of mouth to the esophagus.
- Using protein-rich foods, avoiding fat-rich foods are advisable.
- Monitoring of weight is expected. In some patients weight gain is observed and weight loss in some. A strict and well-planned diet helps to maintain weight.
- Water and fluids should be consumed in sufficient quantity to prevent dehydration.
- Some vitamins and supplements are found to react with the medications given in breast cancer. Hence, they must be taken only after consulting a health professional.
- Moderate exercise or any physical activity would help a lot.
The risk factors in the post-operative stage in breast cancer are similar to those after any surgery. However, proper care and medical management help reduce problems. In the postoperative stage of breast cancer, the objective of nutrition support is to help ease digestion and absorption of nutrients from the diet, reduce the inflammation, promote healing and strengthen the immune system, to avoid the risk factors and also to avoid the reoccurrence of the disease. For nutrition in breast cancer, it is important to follow medical advice and seek support from a nutritionist.
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