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Breast Cancer: What You Ought to Know

There is no known cause or cure for breast cancer. Every three minutes, a woman is diagnosed with the disease. It comes in many forms and with varying symptoms. Through medical research, we may one day understand this disease that the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Understanding it ourselves with the resources we have at our grasp today may mark the difference between life and death. Regular examinations and mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer, and when diagnosed at an early stage and treated immediately, many women can indeed overcome the terrible effects of this disease.

The Anatomy of a Breast:

Cushioned by fat, the breast is composed of inner lobules that are designed to produce milk. Through pregnancy and breast-feeding, the milk is sent from the lobules to the nipple through tiny ducts. Each breast contains around 15 to 20 lobes of glandular tissue. Breast cancer develops when some of the cells in the breast tissue begin growing and reproducing abnormally. Where the process of apoptsis will eliminate these abnormal cells naturally, cancer cells subjugate this process and allow the cells to continue with unregulated reproduction. A mass of cancer cells is called a tumour.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer:

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or thickening of the breast. While most times the lump is painless, observing changes in your breasts may be the key to quick diagnosis. Observing a clear or bloody discharge from the nipple, or an indentation of the nipple itself, are possible signs of breast cancer. A change in the shape and size of the breast, or a flattening or redness of skin over the breast, could also be indicative that something is wrong.

Finding a lump doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. Benign breast lumps can be caused by fluid-filled cysts, fibrocystic changes, fibroadenomas, mastitis breast infections, and calcium deposits.

Types of Breast Cancer:

In situ breast cancer means that the cancer is “in place” but has not spread to surrounding tissue, lymph nodes, or other glands. Ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma in situ (DCIS and LCIS respectively) are non-invasive tumors, a stage sometimes referred to as pre-cancer. Both conditions are considered non-fatal, as the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells are limited to the ducts or lobules. If left untreated, DCIS and LCIS indicate an increased risk of spreading or developing into another type.

By contrast, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) is the most common type of breast cancer, amounting to 80% of all breast cancers diagnosed. The cancer cells form in the breast’s milk duct, infiltrating surrounding tissue, and may eventually metastasize throughout the body. Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) is less common than IDC, but behaves in the same manner, originating in the milk-producing lobules. While IDC may be detected because of hard lumps in the breast, ILC usually displays a thickening of the breast and is more difficult to diagnose through a mammogram.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) is one of the most commonly known types of cancer, yet it is relatively rare. It develops when cancer cells block the lymphatic vessels in the skin of the breast. Extremely aggressive and affecting women of all ages, IBC known to quickly spread to other organs. Typically, patients report a swelling or redness of the breast, resembling the bumpiness of an orange peel. Less common types of breast cancer include medullary, metaplastic, mucinous, angiosarcoma, tubular, phyllodes, sarcoma, micropapillary, and Paget’s disease of the nipple.

Causes and Risk Factors of Breast Cancer:

Women are more prone to breast cancer than men, due to the fact that women have more breast cells and that female hormones are constantly active within the breast to promote growth. Aging is another factor, occurring in nearly 80% of cases of women over 50. Inherited genetic mutations also increase the chance of developing a type of breast cancer within a lifetime, accounting for around 10% of diagnoses. A personal history of cancer in one breast means a greater likelihood that the other breast may be affected in the future.

Breast cancer is also tied to certain reproductive issues. A woman who has not had children or has had her first child after the age of 35 is at greater risk, while conversely a woman who has had multiple pregnancies or has given birth at an early age is at a reduced risk. Breast-feeding is considered a practice that lowers one’s risk. Studies on the use of oral contraceptives and Hormone Replacement Therapy suggest a slightly higher risk of developing cancer, because of a long-term exposure to estrogen. Moreover, women who begin menstruating before the age of twelve, or begin menopause after the age of 55, are at heightened risk because of this over-exposure of estrogen.

Other factors such as excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, lack of physical exercise, and exposure to radiation may contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Protect Yourself:

Fiber is thought to help reduce the amount of estrogen in the body, so increasing daily fiber intake to about 30 grams may be beneficial to breast health. Low-fat diets can help maintain a healthy body weight, resulting in a lessened risk. Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables tends to protect the body against cancer because they are chocked full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A healthy diet combined with regular screening (breast self examinations, clinical examinations, and mammographies) could make all the difference for your health.

The Search for a Cure:

The pink ribbon is the well-known international symbol for breast cancer awareness. During the month of October, various charities launch a health awareness campaign to raise funds to help in researching cures, causes, and the overall prevention of breast cancer. By creating a community of support through education, the hope to save lives and put an end to breast cancer entirely is the end goal of the program.

Breast Cancer Facts:

  • 75% of breast growths are discovered during self-examination
  • 8 out of 10 breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous)
  • One in 27 women will die from breast cancer
  • The cause of breast cancer is still unknown
  • Male breast cancer occurs in 2% of all cases
  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women aged 35 to 50 
  • The survival rate of early diagnosed and treated breast cancer is over 90%