What is Breast Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the breast’s cells. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that eventually grow into or invade surrounding tissues or metastasize (spread) to other distant parts of the body. The disease can affect both women and men but is a lot more common in women.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
- The most common sign is a lump in the breast
- Changes in breast size or shape
- Changes in the nipples including discharge, crusting and scaling
- Depression and loss of appetite
- Breast skin changes like dimpling or thickening of the skin
- Weight loss
- Lump in the armpit or axilla
- Bone pain
If you are experiencing any of these signs/symptoms and suspect breast cancer, consult your doctor immediately.
Risk Factors of Breast Cancer
There are several risk factors that increase the risk of getting breast cancer in females as discussed below:
Family History: The individuals who come from families where there is a history of cancer affecting any part of the body are more at risk of getting breast cancer. In cases where your aunt, mother or sister was diagnosed with breast cancer especially in cases where it was detected at a younger age, chances of being diagnosed with the same are higher. This is a red flag that indicates that one should avoid living a sedentary lifestyle to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer.
Previous History: The chances of getting breast cancer in an individual who had a prior case are increased. This means that if a woman had a breast cancer on one breast; chances of developing breast cancer on the other breast are increased. It is advisable to go for checkups and regular mammograms to help in early detection of the disease.
Inherited Genes: Some of the gene mutations that increase the risk of getting breast cancer can be passed from the mothers to the children. The most common genes that can be passed are BRCA2 and BRCA1. These genes do not make cancer to be inevitable but they increase the risk of getting it.
Exposure to Radiation: The women who have received treatments that involve radiation are at an increased risk of getting breast cancer. This can be an X- ray that was done to the chest when one was a young adult or a child. It is advisable to avoid procedures that involve the use of radiation except in cases where it is inevitable. This includes cases where the procedure is being done to help with diagnosis of an underlying condition where other modes of treatment are not conclusive.
Obesity: The women who have excess weight have an increased risk of getting breast cancer. It is advisable to take part in regular exercises in order to maintain healthy weight. It is also advisable to check weight regularly to ensure that one is on the right track. Research has shown that 5% of the cancer cases can be avoided by maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI). To avoid obesity, one will also need to take a healthy diet at all times. This will need one to avoid taking foods that are high in fats that are saturated. These foods include meat products like pies and sausages, lard, butter and ghee, hard cheese, cream to include ice cream and soured cream chocolate products and savory snacks.
Late Conception: The women who have their first child at 35 years and older have an increased risk of getting breast cancer as compared to those who give birth while younger. Studies have also shown that women who delay in getting their first pregnancy are more at risk of getting cervical cancer. It is advisable for women to get their first child while they are younger before they reach 35 years.
Not being Pregnant: The women who have never been pregnant are at an increased risk of getting breast cancer as compared to women who have carried a pregnancy. This shows that it is advisable for women to be pregnant to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer.
Drinking Alcohol: Drinking alcohol will increase the risk of getting breast cancer in women. This is because of the toxins that are contained in alcohol as they have an effect in the body. Fighting breast cancer will have an effect on the life of the women because one is required to avoid taking alcohol in order to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
There are several risk factors of getting breast cancer together with other types of cancers. Some of these risk factors can be avoided while others are unavoidable. Beating breast cancer will have an effect on the life of a woman as one will need to change their lifestyle. This will include avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, taking a healthy diet and taking part in regular exercises.
In the United States
- Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women.
- It is also the second leading cause of death in American women.
- About one in eight women will be diagnosed with this type of cancer in their lifetime.
- Every year, it is estimated that more than 220,000 women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer and over 40,000 will die because of it.
- Breast cancer is rare in men but each year an estimated 2,150 men in the US will be diagnosed with the disease and approximately 410 will die because of it
Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the National Breast Cancer Foundation
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month which is a yearly campaign for the primary purpose of increases awareness of the deadly disease. The problem is that most people are aware of breast cancer but do not know the steps for early detection of the disease. Thus, Breast Cancer Awareness Month also increases awareness on the early detection of the disease which increases success rate for treatment. Breast Cancer Awareness Month was started by the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) which is was founded in 1991 by a breast cancer survivor (Janelle Hail) who was diagnosed with the disease in 1980 when she was 34. The purpose of the foundation is to educate women around the world about breast cancer and the importance of early detection for successful treatment.
Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
Early detection is very important for successful treatment of breast cancer. Different tests are used to diagnose cancer and determine if the cancer has spread or metastasized to other areas of the body. Some tests also help determine the best treatments for the particular case. Diagnosis usually starts with the detection of a nodule in the breast during self-examination or clinical examination.
The discovery then requires imaging tests including a screening mammography to help determine what the nodule really is and its placement. After diagnosis, imaging tests can be conducted to learn more about the location of the cancer and if it has spread. A diagnostic mammography wherein more pictures of the breast are taken is typically used when signs like another lump or nipple discharge are experienced by the patient.
Natural Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer
- Eat a diet high in natural foods like fruits and dark leafy greens and avoid consumption of processed foods high in preservatives.
- Exercise regularly to manage your weight and control stress level.
- Avoid harmful environmental exposure like synthetic hormones and unnecessary radiation.
- Wear natural fabrics that are more comfortable.
- Do not wear tight bras with under wires.
- Avoid stress and sleep better to prevent excess production of estrogen.
National Mammography Day – 17th October
In 1993, bill US president Bill Clinton proclaimed that the third Friday in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is National Mammography Day. Thus, this year National Mammography Day will be on the 17th of October. This is a day that encourages women to get a mammogram for early detection of breast cancer.
Treatment of Breast Cancer
Treatment of breast cancer differs from one case to another but it usually involves a multidisciplinary team which is a group of doctors that specialize in different areas of cancer treatment working together. This may include medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, plastic surgeons, etc. The biology and behaviour of the breast cancer also has an effect on the treatment since some tumors are small yet grow fast while others are large but grow slowly. The other factors that affect treatment are:
- Stage of the cancer.
- Hormone receptor status of the tumor.
- Other markers like Oncotype DX, Ki67, and Mammaprint if applicable.
- The general health of the patient.
- The patient’s age and preferences.
- The menopausal symptoms and status of the patient.
- Presence of known mutations in breast cancer genes inherited.
- Surgical Options – This includes the removal of the lump, affected breast/s, lymph node and reconstructive surgery for the breasts in case of a mastectomy (surgical removal of the entire breast/s).
- Radiation Therapy – High energy x-rays of other particles are used to kill cancer cells. The most common type is external-beam radiation therapy which is radiation given using a machine outside the body. When the radiation treatment involves the use of a probe in the operating room, this is called intra-operative radiation. When radioactive sources are placed into the tumor, this is called brachytherapy.
- Chemotherapy – Drugs are used to destroy cancer cells stopping their ability to grow and divide.
- Other Treatments – The other breast cancer treatments are hormonal therapy and targeted therapy which are used for specific types of breast cancer.
Everyone should contribute to increasing awareness on the importance of early detection during the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you have female relatives or friends over the age of 40, you can remind them about getting a mammogram. You can even tweet or post important information to help increase awareness about the deadly disease. Plus women should know what the essential screening tests are for them.
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- National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Guidelines for patients: Breast cancer. Version 3.2013, 2013