In less than three weeks, two families that I know of lost their loved ones to Cancer. One of these two tragic losses was due to breast cancer, and since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, what better time to talk about it than now?
Since 1985, the month of October has been utilized as a time for raising awareness of breast cancer and raising funds for supporting research into its treatment and prevention.
According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world. In 2020, there were over 2.26 million new cases of breast cancer and a record of over 680,000 deaths globally from cancer. Of all cancers, breast cancer is the most common cause of death in women.
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What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease condition whereby cells of the breast grow abnormally. There are different types, depending on the type of cell affected and the part of the breast where it begins. The cancer is confined to the breast initially, but with time, it tends to spread to neighboring and even distant parts of the body. The spread of the cancer is called metastasis. Sometimes, cancer from other parts of the body can also spread to and affect the breast.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer! However, as a result of several innovations in research and advancement in medicine & surgery, women now have more options. This, coupled with early detection from self-breast examination and mammography, helps greatly to increase the survival rate of affected women. In this article, we will talk about some basic concepts related to breast cancer that every woman should know.
Who is at Risk of Breast Cancer?
Just like in other cancers and diseases as a whole, some categories of people are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer than others. While some risk factors can be avoided, some cannot. Some of the risk factors are:
- Gender: about 99%-99.5% of all breast cancer cases are seen in women while the remaining 1% is seen in males. This automatically places all women at risk.
- Family history: there’s a higher risk of getting breast cancer when there is a history of its occurrence in the family — especially with first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter).
- Reproductive history: starting menstruation at a very young age and reaching menopause late, late age at first childbirth or not giving birth at all, and absence of breastfeeding can all increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Other risk factors include postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy, Smoking, alcohol consumption, and exposure to ionizing radiation (if it occurs during breast development).
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
Whether or not you have any of the above-mentioned risk factors, knowing the symptoms of breast cancer is very important. These are some of the symptoms you should look out for:
- Swelling of the whole breast or part of it even if you do not feel any lump.
- Dimpling of the skin, sometimes making the breast look like an orange peel.
- Pain in the breast or nipple.
- Retraction of the nipple (turning inward).
- Drying, reddening, thickening, or flaking of the breast skin or nipple.
- Bloody discharge from the nipple.
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Can Breast Cancer be Cured?
When detected and treated in its early stages, the chances of survival from breast cancer are significantly increased. Unfortunately, reoccurrence of the cancer is possible even many years after treatment. For patients whose cancer is detected late, after it has already spread to other parts of the body, the treatment is aimed at reducing suffering and improving quality of life.
Treatment of Breast Cancer
There are several treatment options available depending on the type of cancer and whether it has spread or not. These includes:
- Chemotherapy: This is where some drugs are used to shrink or kill cancer cells. It includes oral pills and liquid medicines that will be injected into your veins.
- Hormonal therapy: here, some drugs are used to prevent cancer cells from getting the hormones (estrogen) they need to grow.
- Biological therapy: this therapy is aimed at strengthening your body’s immunity to fight against cancer and also reduce the side effects of the cancer drugs on your body.
- Radiation therapy: it involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. This is similar to X-rays.
- Surgery: surgery involves the removal of the breast (mastectomy) or a part of it. Sometimes both breasts are removed as well as some neighboring tissues.
Breast cancer treatment involves specialists from different areas of medicine and surgery. This is because a variety of treatment methods are employed.
Breast cancer has for some time been the cause of death for a significant number of women globally, however, the mortality rate is gradually dropping in developed countries due to the utilization of advanced technology to aid in early detection and treatment.
Regular self-breast examination by all females of reproductive age and periodic mammography/ultrasound scans in those at a higher risk is key to early detection in parts of the world where more advanced technology is not readily accessible.
I believe that by reading up to this point, you have learnt more about breast cancer and that you will help to create more awareness on it. Do you have any question, addition or correction? Kindly reach out in the comment box below. I look forward to hearing from you.
- What Causes Breast Cancer?
The exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown, however, years of research have pointed to risk factors that play significant roles in its occurrence. This means people with such risk factors have a higher possibility of ending up with cancer. The risk factors include being a female of reproductive age, having a history of breast cancer in one’s family, not breastfeeding, not giving birth, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol e.t.c
- What are the Warning Signs of Breast Cancer?
These are signs you should always look out for when performing a self-breast exam or when you observe something similar. You are to seek medical attention as soon as you notice them. This includes bloody nipple discharge, swelling of the breast, pain of the breast or nipple, abnormal appearance of the skin of the breast, and retraction of the nipple.
- Do you Gain Weight With Breast Cancer?
While most cancers are known to cause significant weight loss in people, women with breast cancer who are undergoing treatment may sometimes gain weight. This is likely due to changes in hormone levels resulting from the treatment or overeating (some people tend to eat more food when they are stressed or worried). Read more here.
- How is Breast Cancer Removed?
Breast cancer is removed in a surgery known as mastectomy. There are different types of this surgery; it could involve only the removal of the affected part and some nearby tissue, the whole breast, nearby tissues, or even both breasts.
- What is the Best Treatment for Breast Cancer?
This depends on the stage and grade of cancer. Surgery is usually the first treatment option for breast cancer. This is often accompanied by chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, or other treatment options.
- Can Men Get Breast Cancer Too?
Yes, men can also get breast cancer; this is why they are also expected to take necessary precautions especially if they are at risk. However, they make up only 0.5- 1% of the total cancer victims.
Abdulsalam Yunusa (Medical Student)
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2. Robbins Basic Pathology, 10th edition.
3. Harsh Mohan’s Textbook of Pathology, Sixth Edition
4. Relationship between Breast Cancer and Estrogen. NCBI.