Why is breast cancer awareness so important?
Breast cancer is the most common type in women. Most women with breast cancer are over 50, but younger women can get breast cancer too. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. You have a better chance of recovery if caught early. For this reason, it is very important that women have regular breast exams to detect any changes and that they are monitored by a doctor.
It is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. There are different types of breast cancer. The type of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast become cancerous. It begins in different parts of the breast. The breast is made up of three main parts: the lobes, vessels, and connective tissue. The lobes are milk-producing glands. The vessels are the tubes that carry milk to the nipple. Connective tissue (which contains fibrous and fatty tissue) surrounds and holds everything together. Most breast cancers start in the vessels or lobes. It spreads outside of the breast through blood and lymphatic vessels. When breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it is said to have metastasized.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some have no signs or symptoms.
Some warning signs:
- New lump in the chest or armpit.
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Irritation or discoloration of the skin of the breast.
- Red or scaly skin in the nipple or breast area.
- Nipple pulling or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge instead of breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
- Be aware that these symptoms can occur with other non-cancerous conditions.
Risk factors for breast cancer
Risk factors you can’t change
- Getting old. The risk of this disease increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
- Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) in certain genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who inherit these genetic changes have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Playback history. Menstruation before age 12 and the onset of menopause after age 55 make women more susceptible to hormones and increase the risk.
- You have dense breasts. Dense breasts contain more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which sometimes makes it difficult to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with thicker breasts are more likely to develop this disease.
- Personal history of this disease or non-cancerous breast diseases. Women with this disease are more likely to have breast cancer a second time. Non-cancerous breast diseases, such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ, have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer. A woman with breast or ovarian cancer has a higher risk of developing breast cancer if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree cousin) or multiple family members on her mother’s or father’s side. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer increases a woman’s risk.
- Previous treatment with radiotherapy. Women who have received radiation therapy to the breast or breast before the age of 30 (for the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma) have an increased risk of developing breast cancer in the future.
- Women who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage were at increased risk. Women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy were also at risk.
Risk factors you can change
- Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk.
- Being overweight or balanced after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of this disease than their normal weight.
- Hormone intake. Some types of menopausal hormone replacement therapy (which includes both estrogen and progesterone) given for five years increase the risk. Some oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have also been found to increase the risk.
- Playback history. Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and not having a full-term pregnancy increases the risk.
- Drinking alcohol. Studies show that women who drink more alcohol have a higher risk of this disease.
Types of breast cancer
There are many types of this disease that can develop in different parts of the breast.
It is often divided into:
- Non-invasive breast cancer (carcinoma in situ): found in the vessels of the breast (ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS) that does not spread to the breast tissue around the vessels. Non-invasive breast cancer is usually found during a mammogram and rarely shows up as a lump.
- Invasive breast cancer: Cancer cells spread to the surrounding breast tissue through the lining of the vessels. It is the most common type of breast cancer.
Other less common types of breast cancer:
- Invasive (and preinvasive) lobular breast cancer
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Paget’s disease of the breast
It is more likely to spread to other parts of the body, usually through the blood or axillary lymph nodes. These are small lymph nodes that filter bacteria and cells from the mammary gland. If this happens, it is called secondary or metastatic breast cancer.
Breast cancer screening
Doctors often use additional tests to detect or diagnose breast cancer. They can refer women to a breast specialist or surgeon. This does not mean that you have cancer or that you need surgery. These doctors are experts in diagnosing breast problems.
- Breast ultrasound. A machine that uses sound waves to create detailed images called ultrasound scans of areas within the breast.
- Diagnostic mammogram. If you have a lump-like problem in your breast, or if the breast area looks abnormal on a screening mammogram, doctors may get a diagnostic mammogram. This is a more detailed x-ray of the breast.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A body scan that uses a magnet connected to a computer. An MRI creates detailed images of the areas within the breast.
- Biopsy. This is a test that removes tissue or fluid from the breast under a microscope. There are different types of biopsies (for example, fine-needle aspiration, central biopsy, or open biopsy).
- All women should have a risk assessment at age 30 to see if screening earlier than age 40 is needed.
- Women at average breast cancer risk should begin screening at age 40.
- Women previously diagnosed with this disease may also benefit from supplemental screening with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), especially if their cancer was diagnosed at or before the age of 50.
- “Three tests are typically used in detecting this. Each has its own benefits and risks. Women should talk with their doctor regarding the best option for them,” said Tuite.
- A mammogram is an X-ray exam of the breast used to detect and evaluate breast changes. Its detection ability depends on tumor size and breast tissue density. Three-dimensional (3D) mammography is a type of digital mammography in which X-ray machines are used to take pictures of thin slices of the breast from different angles and computer software is used to reconstruct an image.
- Breast ultrasound is often used along with mammography for high-risk women who cannot undergo MRI, and women with dense breast tissue.
- A breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be used to screen high-risk women and gather more information about a suspicious area found on a mammogram or an ultrasound.
Treatment for breast cancer
It can be treated in many ways. It depends on the type of this disease and its extent. People with this disease often receive more than one type of treatment.
- Surgery. Doctors perform surgery to remove cancerous tissue.
- Chemotherapy. Using special medicines to shrink or destroy cancer cells. Medicines can be pills you take or medicines that are given into your veins, or sometimes both.
- Hormone therapy. Cancer cells prevent them from getting the hormones they need to grow.
- Biological treatment. It works with your body’s immune system to help fight cancer cells or control the side effects of other cancer treatments.
- Radiotherapy. Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill cancer cells.
- Doctors from different specialities work together to treat. Surgeons are doctors who perform operations. Medical oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with cancer drugs. Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with radiation.
Living with breast cancer
Having breast cancer affects your daily life in many ways, depending on what stage you are in and the treatment you receive. How people cope with diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. If you need it, a variety of support is available.
Support forms can include:
- Family and friends can be a powerful support system.
- Communicate with other people in the same situation.
- Find out as much as possible about your situation
- Don’t try to do too much or overdo it
- Allot time for yourself
Since the causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, it is not possible to know if it can be prevented at present. If you are at risk of developing the condition, there are some treatments available to lower your risk.
Studies have looked at the link between this disease and diet. Although there are no definitive conclusions, there are benefits for women:
- keep a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Eat less saturated fat
- Do not drink alcohol
It has been suggested that regular exercise can reduce the risk of this disease by almost a third. Exercising regularly and living a healthy lifestyle can improve the outlook for people with this disease.
If you are in menopause, it is important to try to gain and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or overweight produces more estrogen, which increases your risk of this disease.