Breast Cancer: Causes, Signs and Prevention

FACTS ABOUT BREAST CANCER

  • Breast cancer is the most frequently detected cancer among women in the U.S and it is the second major cause of cancer death, after lung cancer.
  • Symptoms may include a breast lump or thickening, and some skin or nipple changes.
  • Risk factors are either genetic or related to lifestyle factors such as alcohol.
  • Available treatments include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Various breast masses are not cancerous. However, if you are concerned about a lump or any change in your breast, you should see a doctor.
  • Even though breast cancer mostly occurs in women, men can also be affected.

In these following lines, we expose about women breast cancer.



WHAT IS A CANCER AND BREAST CANCER?

A Cancer is a disease that causes cells in the body to transform and multiply out of control. Cancer cells can form a lump called tumor and are usually named after the part of the body where the mass originates.

Breast cancer usually originates in the breast tissue. Precisely in the internal lining of milk ducts that provides them with milk. From that point, spreading to other tissues is possible.

WHAT CAUSES BREAST CANCER?

Causes of breast cancer are not fully understood. It is believed that many genetic and environmental factors act and lead to the accumulation of mutations in essential genes.

RISK FACTORS OF BREAST  CANCER

As said earlier, causes of breast cancer are not fully understood. Nevertheless, there are risk factors that exist.

There are risks that we can modify and those we cannot change.

Among risk we can modify we have mostly lifestyle (weight, alcohol consumption). Hormonal treatment also may play a role. Those we cannot change include: gender, age, family history, race or ethnicity.

Age

Risks of breast cancer increase with age. Most cases are diagnosed in women aged 55-year-old or more.

Gender

Women are at high risk just because they are women. Breast cancer is more common in women than men.

breast cancer stats
Image: breast-cancer.ca
Family History

8 out 10 women with breast cancer do not have family history of the disease. However, women with family history of the disease are at high risk.

Race / Ethnicity

Globally, white women have slightly more risks of developing breast cancer than African-Americans. Nevertheless, in women aged 45 or less, breast cancer is mostly diagnosed in African-Americans.

Death rate in African-American women higher than any other race at any age. Risk of developing breast cancer and death rate in Asian, Native American and Hispanic is low compare to African-Americans. (1)

Early Menstruation in life

Women who started seeing their menstrual period early in life may have a slightly high risk of developing breast cancer.

The high risk may be function of a longer lifetime contact with hormones, which are estrogen and progesterone.

Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES)

An estrogen-like medication that was believed to prevent miscarriage.

Body weight

Overweight or obese women especially after menopause are more likely at risk of developing breast cancer. This may probably due to higher levels of estrogen and / or high sugar consumption.

Alcohol consumption

Alcohol abuse may be one of the risk factors. Research show that women with high degree of alcohol intake (3 drinks a day) have a 1.5 high risk.

Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal replacement therapy and family planning tablets have been linked to the risk of breast cancer.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF BREAST CANCER?

Before we dive into signs, we strongly recommend women to keep an eye on the look and feel of their breasts. This a very important part in breast health.

Knowing how your breast look and feel does not replace the regular check-up. Regular screening can reveal breast cancer before signs appear.

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump. The lump or mass can be painless, hard or tender, with irregular edge. We should note that the shape can be rounded and the lump painful in some cases.

Other breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Swollen lymph node in the armpit or neck (may be painful or not)
  • Total or partial swelling of the breast
  • Breast skin change (giving an aspect of an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain not changing with monthly cycle
  • Nipple turning inward (retracted)
  • Redness of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge different from breast milk

EARLY DIAGNOSIS OF BREAST CANCER

Why early diagnosis?

Early diagnosis and proper treatment are two significant steps to lower the deaths rate from breast cancer.

It is easier to stop a small cancer found early and that has not yet spread. The earlier it is found, the better the treatment could be.

Regular screening tests is the best option.

Breast Cancer Screening

More often, the malignancy is discovered on a routine screening. sometimes when a woman detects signs and approaches the doctor.

Breast examination helps the doctor to suspect the presence of cancer. He will assess the patient’s breasts for lumps and other symptoms named earlier.

Diagnostic tests and procedures helping to confirm a diagnosis are:

IMAGING TESTS

  • Mammogram
  • Ultrasound scan
  • MRI scan

BIOPSY

A piece of suspected tissue is taken for laboratory investigation. The test can show whether the cells forming that tissue are cancerous.

If the it is cancerous, it shows which type of cancer it is and assess if the cancer is hormone-sensitive or not.

Staging of the cancer is also done and determine the size, level of spread, if it is invasive or not. This will give better view on the impact and help the clinician decide on the proper treatment.

Staging will affect the chances of recovery and will help decide on the best treatment options.

TREATMENT

Treatment depend on many factors that are:

  • The type of cancer
  • Its stage
  • The sensitivity to hormones
  • The patient’s age, overall health, and preferences

The main treatment options are:

  • Radiation
  • Breast surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone blocking therapy
  • Targeted drug therapy

Radiation  

2 procedures are possible:

Teletherapy: Type of therapy using x-rays or other high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.

Radiation therapy: Treatment that uses x-rays and other high-energy rays to kill abnormal cells.

Surgery: consist of mammaplasty, tissue expansion, lymph node dissection, lumpectomy, mastectomy

Chemotherapy

These are cytotoxic drugs used to kill cancer cells in case of a high risk of relapse or spread. It is also termed as adjuvant chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy may also be prescribed for cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. This can help to reduce symptoms, especially in the advanced stages.

For large masses, chemotherapy can be prescribed prior to surgery. This may help to shrink the lump and facilitate its removal. The procedure is also termed as neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.

The procedure comes with some side effects. This includes nausea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, hair loss. It may also make the patient more susceptible to infections. Doctors use some medications to deal with this.

Hormone blocking therapy

Therapy using: Tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors, ovarian ablation or suppression with a drug named Goserelin (sold as Zoladex).

Hormone blocking therapy is used to stop relapse in hormone-sensitive breast cancers. It is usually prescribed after surgery but may occasionally come before to shrink the growth.

For patients where surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are contraindicated, this can be the preferred option.

We should note that hormone therapy may affect future fertility of a woman.

Targeted Drug Therapy: This procedure uses drugs that destroy specific forms of breast cancer.

PREVENTION OF BREAST CANCER

In terms of prevention, you need to know that there is no bulletproof method to prevent breast cancer. Nevertheless, making some changes in your lifestyle can significantly decrease the risk of developing breast cancer.

Lifestyle change includes:

  • Avoiding too much alcohol consumption
  • Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Doing sufficient exercise
  • Keeping your body weight within normal (Healthy Body Mass index)

Breast cancer is one of the leading cause of mortality especially in women. Being aware of signs is crucial and early diagnosis can help to limit fatalities.

We bring you this article and recommend that in any case you consult a medical practitioner to make sure of diagnosis.

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