Breast Cancer and Rehab

Breast cancer – disease, therapy and rehabilitation

Breast cancer (breast cancer) is a cancer that develops in the tissue of the breast. Age, hormonal influences, the genetic disposition but also the lifestyle and certain environmental factors favor the development of breast cancer. Find out everything about the disease, treatment and rehabilitation here.

Breast cancer: general

Breast cancer is the most common tumor in women in USA. Every eighth woman develops breast cancer in the course of her life. The risk increases with increasing age: the disease almost always occurs after the age of 40, usually only over 50. At around 70 the risk then begins to decrease again.

When it comes to breast cancer, most people immediately think of women. But men can also be affected, albeit comparatively rarely. In 2012, 620 breast cancer cases in men were recorded in USA. There were around 70,000 cases in women. The number of deaths from breast cancer has been falling for some years, although the number of new cases is increasing. The reason is always more effective and better tolerated therapies.

Breast cancer: causes

Breast cancer is usually not attributable to a clear cause. However, there are a number of risk factors that favor the development of breast cancer:

Age plays a role, but female hormones also influence the risk of developing breast cancer. The hormonal fluctuations in the female cycle are to blame. Therefore, the onset of menstrual periods before the age of 11 and late menopause (after the age of 54) are factors that increase the risk of breast cancer. Lifestyle and environmental influences such as smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, alcohol and harmful radiation (cancer therapy, frequent X-rays) are also risk factors for breast cancer. Genetic factors also play a role. Five percent of breast cancer cases are hereditary. Women who have particularly dense breast tissue (recognizable in mammography examinations) are also at higher risk for breast cancer.

Breast cancer: appearance/symptoms

Breast cancer does not cause pain in the early stages. At first, hardening or a lump in the chest is often noticed. In half of the cases, these nodules are located in the upper, outer quarter of the chest up to the armpit. The location can also be anywhere else on the chest. Other indications (but no reliable evidence) of breast cancer can be changes in the shape and size of a breast. Dents in the skin and colored or more sensitive nipples can also occur in breast cancer. If fluids leak out of the nipple or the lymph nodes in the armpits swell or hurt, a doctor should clarify the cause for safety. Redness of the skin, burning sensation, or drawing pain in the chest can also be symptoms of breast cancer.

Breast cancer: examinations & diagnosis

If breast cancer is suspected, the doctor first asks for the most important information. These relate to the symptoms, previously used medications or hormone therapies, the history of the disease and also the possible occurrence of breast cancer within the close family.

Tactile examination and breast ultrasound

The physical examinations usually begin with palpation of the breast. The doctor feels in the tissue of the breast, armpits and on the nipples, whether nodules, hardening or other changes are noticeable or whether liquids escape from the nipple. Depending on the result, an ultrasound examination can follow.

Mammography and MRI

Mammography is a special type of chest X-ray. The devices not only enable the breast tissue to be imaged, but also to store and precisely analyze the images (in some cases using 3D methods). If breast cancer is specifically suspected, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can follow, in which the breast tissue is imaged in detail using a magnetic field.

Tissue examination in the laboratory

Only a laboratory examination can determine whether a breast lump is really malignant. This requires taking tissue (biopsy) from the node and examining the cells under the microscope. If it really is cancer, the examination also shows the type of cancer cells and whether they grow aggressively or slowly. Blood is also examined in the laboratory for organ functions, inflammation or immune values. Breast cancer itself is undetectable in the blood.

Breast cancer checkups

The sooner breast cancer is detected, the better the chances of a complete cure. That is why experts recommend having a tactile examination once a year from the age of 30. Women between 50 and 69 years are entitled to a mammography examination every two years. Mammography is associated with radiation exposure. However, breast tissue in women over 50 is less sensitive to radiation than in young women. Experts consider the benefit to be far greater than the risk from X-rays, especially if there is an increased risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer: therapy & rehab

In most cases, breast cancer can be treated well. Treatment depends on various factors such as age, state of health and, above all, whether metastases (cancer cells have settled in other parts of the body) have developed.

Breast-conserving surgery and breast amputation

In almost every breast cancer case, surgical removal of the tumor (usually together with neighboring lymph nodes) is the first, important measure of therapy. If possible, breast-conserving therapy (BET) is carried out in which the size and shape of the breast remain as much as possible. Sometimes, however, the entire breast must be removed (mastectomy). Breast prostheses (e.g. prosthesis bras or self-adhesive prostheses) or a surgical breast augmentation with implants can optically replace the missing breast.

Chemotherapy, radiation and anti-hormone treatment

In order to kill residual cancer cells after an operation and to prevent relapse (new cancer growth), further therapies can follow. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy with cancer drugs (cytostatics) damage and destroy the cancer cells. Some types of breast cancer are particularly strongly stimulated to grow by hormones. In these cases, anti-hormone therapy can inhibit female hormones and thus cancer growth. The doctor decides individually on an exact therapy plan in each individual case.

Breast cancer rehabilitation

Specialized oncological rehabilitation clinics are set up to support and support women in all respects after breast cancer treatment. In addition to medical examinations and therapies, the primary goal is to cope with the cancer physically and psychologically and to enable patients to return to their everyday lives.

Specialists and specially trained staff put together the right offers for each rehab individually. It depends, among other things, on whether it is an AHB (follow-up treatment or follow-up rehabilitation) directly after breast cancer therapy or a rehab for cancer aftercare. The latter can be used up to two years after treatment.

Diagnostics and therapy in rehab

Breast cancer rehabilitation clinics are equipped with the most modern diagnostic and therapeutic options. If necessary, ongoing therapies can be continued, adapted and optimized there. Side effects or late effects of the therapy or illness, such as lymphedema (water retention), can also be treated or prevented. Specialists answer all questions that arise and plan short-term and long-term medical measures together with the patient.

Preparing to return to everyday life

Rehabilitation is intended to help people return to social and, if necessary, working life after breast cancer. To support these goals, the clinics offer various information and training courses on breast cancer. Experts advise on all social, private and professional problems. In addition, the exchange with other sufferers in a calm and positive environment is often a great help for breast cancer patients.

Psychological counseling and coping with the disease

Cancer, therapy and/or breast amputation are associated with great stress. Not only is physical performance impaired, many patients also struggle with mental health problems long after treatment. During rehabilitation there is therefore always the possibility to use various psychological aids. This includes counseling and therapy by psychologists and reducing anxiety and stress through relaxation techniques. Artistic therapies such as music therapy can also help to cope with the disease.

Sport and physiotherapy in rehab

Exercise and physiotherapy are essential components of rehab in breast cancer. They are used to restore resilience, strengthen strength and condition or to improve restricted mobility in the shoulder-arm area (after breast surgery). In addition, exercise also has a psychologically positive effect and can alleviate fatigue syndromes. Rehabilitation clinics also offer many additional measures, from massages to lymphatic drainage to nutritional advice. Individual or in groups, depending on the clinic, it is possible to participate in a wide range of sports programs, for example swimming and aqua jogging, Nordic walking, yoga, back exercises or breathing exercises.

Chances of recovery and positive effects of rehab

Breast cancer is completely curable in many cases (90 percent of sufferers), especially if the tumor is recognized early. Rehabilitation makes a significant contribution to improving aftercare, recovery and quality of life after therapy. Women receive support in rehabilitation to process the diagnosis of “cancer” and strenuous therapies. After a breast amputation, the rehab helps the patient regain her self-esteem as a woman.

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