The most common type of cancer to inflict women in the United States is breast cancer with around 12.5 % of women being diagnosed with disease at some point in their lives.
The American Cancer Society estimates that there will around 266,000 new breast cancer cases diagnosed across the whole country in 2018 with roughly 41,000 of those resulting in death.
A significant proportion of deaths from breast cancer could be prevented through the adoption of preventive care techniques such as mammograms.
Continue reading to discover some essential information that you simply must know about breast cancer.
Breast Cancer; What Is It?
Cancer occurs when cells start grow at a rate that is far beyond normal, or is out of control. In the case of breast cancer, these cells are located in the area of the breast. The abnormal growth of the cells will typically lead to a tumor developing which can either be benign or malignant.
A malignant tumor is capable of taking over healthy tissue in the vicinity of the tumor and spreading to other parts of the body. This spreading occurs when cancerous cells access the blood or lymphatic systems where they then can access major organs and tissue.
Although breast cancer is contracted predominantly by women, men are also at risk from the disease. Living a particular type of lifestyle can increase the risk of breast cancer, but there are also many factors beyond anyone’s control that can increase the risk of breast cancer developing.
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Breast Cancer?
No matter what a person’s lifestyle choices, there are certain factors that will increase the likelihood of breast cancer developing that are beyond control
- A Person’s Gender. If you are a woman, you are 100 times ore likely to develop breast cancer than a man.
- A Person’s Age. Over the age of 55, the chances of contracting breast cancer increase.
- Genetic Make Up. Around 5-10% of breast cancer cases occurs because of a person’s genetic make-up. If the BRAC1 gene, which is responsible for producing DNA-repairing proteins, becomes mutated it will increase the risk of breast cancer developing. If this mutation occurs, the risk of breast cancer increases to 70% by the age of 80.
- Race or Ethnic Origin. Certain races of people are more likely to experience a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, increasing their risk of breast cancer; one such group being the Ashkenazi people. White females are at more risk than black women, in particular aged below 35 years.
- History of Cancer in the Family. If a person is a first-degree relative of a breast cancer sufferer, their risk of developing it doubles. However, 80% of of sufferers have no history of breast cancer in their family.
- Early Onset of Menstruation. Certain studies have concluded that an early menstruation may be a sign of increased risk of breast cancer.
- Delayed Menopause. Similarly, a delayed or late menopause may increase risk of development.
- Breast Tissue Density. Highly dense breast tissue can increase the risk of developing breast cancer by a factor of between 1.5 to 2 times.
These factors above are out of your control. There are, however, many lifestyle choice decisions that you make that can increase your risk:
- Use of birth control hormones.
- Having a sedentary lifestyle.
- Consuming alcohol at the rate of 2-3 units per day will increase the risk of breast cancer by 20% compared to non drinkers.
- Obesity or being overweight.
- Having no children.
- Having children over the age of 30.
- Choosing not to breast feed.
- Hormone therapy.
Causes and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
As pointed out in the risk factors listed above, breast cancer caused by many factors or a combination of several. A mutated BRCA1 gene appears to have a significant involvement; damaged DNA does not get replaced leading to other genetic alterations.
A lump in the breast is the most common symptom and this will usually present as a hard, irregular shaped mass that is painless. Less frequently, it can be the opposite, though; soft and tender to the touch.
Other common symptoms include:
- A painful breast or nipple.
- Swelling of the breast.
- Retracted nipple.
- Skin irritation around the breast.
- Nipple discharge.
- Inflammation, thickening or scaling around the nipple or breast.
Options For Treating Breast Cancer
There are several common treatments for breast cancer:
There are various surgical procedures available to treat breast cancer. In the worst case, mastectomies involve the removal of the entire affected breast, but there are also options for lumpectomies; removing the minimum amount of infected tissue or lump. Both these techniques are designed to remove cancerous cells.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy or lymph node dissection are surgical techniques that check if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
Other surgery may be carried out to slow down the cancer’s spread of provide pain relief for the sufferer.
This treatment option usually is carried out along with other forms of treatment. The decision to opt for radiation therapy will depend on the cancer having spread or not; a person’s age; and other conditions.
With this treatment option, radioactive particles are ‘shot’ at the affected area in order to kill the cancerous cells. Radiation can be directed from outside the body (external beam radiation) or internally (internal radiation or brachytherapy).
Radiation is most commonly used on a patient that has already undergone a mastectomy or lumpectomy. It will also be used on larger tumors (over 2” Diameter) or if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or somewhere else.
Chemotherapy involves intravenous drugs being delivered that will fight the cancer cells of a prolonged period (several weeks). It is also used to after surgery to clear up any remaining cancerous cells; this is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy happens before surgery to make tumors smaller and more easy to remove. It can also be on cancer that has spread beyond the breast.
Complementary and alternative medicine is often used to supplement more established treatments. They may be lacking in scientific proof of success, but they provide patients with a means of positive engagement with their treatment. Many alternative remedies are considered to be holistic in that the aim to treat the body and mind as a whole. As well as providing physical relief, patients may also benefit mentally from their use.
Some common examples of alternative breast cancer remedies are:
- Acupuncture and cupping.
- Tai Chi
These alternative ‘remedies’ may not cure the cancer itself, but they can be very effective in managing pain and side effects.
Breast Cancer Prognosis
Breast cancer prognosis is continuing to improve and in the last 30 years the risk of fatality due to breast cancer has reduced by more than 30 percent. According to The National Breast Cancer Foundation, living in the United States today there are currently 3.3 million survivors of breast cancer.
This relative success can be attributed to several factors.
- Reduction in prescription of hormone therapy to women over 50.
- Improvement in breast cancer screening procedure allowing better and earlier detection.
- Improved research into breast cancer.
- Improved treatment of breast cancer patients.
In the near future there are several advancements in the treatment of breast cancer that people can expect to see coming on-line. Some of these are due to the recognition of various types of breast cancer, requiring different approaches to treatment.
DNA sequencing to can identify risk of particular types of breast cancer which can allow targeted drugs or modified chemotherapy treatments. This, in turn, may slow down or stop the cancer’s spread.
Research at the University of Michigan has shown promise in the treatment of metastasizing breast cancer. The research involves the insertion of minute scaffold-like devices beneath the skin. These devices trap metastasized cancer cells preventing them from spreading through the body.
Studies are also underway at the University of Michigan to test a range of targeted therapies designed to treat a wide range of breast cancer types.