Breast Cancer: What you need to know

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Hands On Your Breast — Cancer Awareness

The doctor telling you, you have cancer feels like a death sentence being read to some women. Just being a woman is the highest risk factor for breast cancer. Breast cancer affects more women than other types of cancer. As reported by Medical News Today “Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in females worldwide. It accounts for 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women. 18.2% of all cancer deaths worldwide, including both males and females, are from breast cancer. Making it a habit of looking and feeling your breast every day in order to know its normal state is very important. “One or two in every 25 Nigerian women are at risk of breast cancer, but higher risks exist for women who are older than 45, older than 30 at birth of their first child, and women with family history, ” says Dr Olaleye of Optimal Cancer Care Foundation.

What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is simply an uncontrollable growth of cells of the breast. Cancers are malignant tumors; a tumor is a swelling or mass resulting from an abnormal growth of cells. A malignant tumor (cancer) tend to grow uncontrollably affecting surrounding tissues or even spreading to other parts of the body causing damage that may be life-threatening.

Risk factors: Research has not proven what exactly causes breast cancer but there are risk factors that may lead to developing breast cancer:

  1. Being a woman: This is the number one risk factor, women suffer breast cancer more than the male counterpart, reason being the fact that the female hormones promote cancer cell growth. A study published on Pubmed Central-Hormone Action in the Mammary Gland (2010)reports that the female reproductive hormones, estrogens, progesterone, and prolactin, have a major impact on breast cancer and control postnatal mammary gland development.
  2. Family history and genetics: It may be carried by your genes. If you also have a close relative or sister that had suffered breast cancer, you have a higher risk of developing the disease. The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in theBRCA1 and BRCA2  In normal cells, these genes help prevent cancer by making proteins that help keep the cells from growing abnormally. Mutated versions of these genes cannot stop abnormal growth, and that can lead to cancer says cancer.org. Studies have shown that identical twins who inherited the genes can develop the same type of cancer at the same period of life.
  3. Older Women: As you get older your risk increases, especially for women over 50 (doesn’t mean women younger cannot develop cancerous cells). In post-menopausal women, any discharge from the breast is considered a very serious issue and should be promptly reported.
  4. Having a Previous History of Cancer: A woman who has had a previous breast cancer battle is more likely to develop the condition again in the other breast or in another path of the same breast.
  5. Menstrual History: Onset of periods before age 12 and late menopause beyond 60, leads to much exposure to the female hormones estrogen which is friendly to cancer cells. Such women have a greater chance of developing breast cancer later in life.
  6. Obesity: Obese or overweight women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. According to breastcancer.org, the higher risk is because fat cells make estrogen; extra fat cells mean more estrogen in the body and estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop and grow.
  7. Certain Breast Lump: Having had a breast lump that is not cancerous previously in life may increase your risk of breast cancer in later life.
  8. Women with dense (thick and tough) breast have a higher risk of developing breast cancer says, researchers.
  9. Women who have not been pregnant in their lifetime have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. The breast gets to its full maturity at your first full term pregnancy, before full term pregnancy your breast is still immature and so liable to hormonal influence that may lead to breast cancer.
  10. Alcohol Consumption: studies have found the consumption of alcohol to increase the risk of cancer. As reported by National Cancer Institute, a study carried out revealed the risk of breast cancer was higher among all levels of alcohol intake: for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day (slightly less than one drink) researchers observed a small increase (7 percent) in the risk of breast cancer


Symptoms of Breast Cancer
According to American Cancer Society, the most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. They can even be painful. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass or lump or breast change checked by a health care provider experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

Sometimes a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swell there, even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt. Swollen lymph nodes should also be checked by a health care provider.

Experiencing some of these symptoms may not necessarily mean a malignancy; it may be other diseased condition and should be properly diagnosed by your doctor.

Screening: A mammogram is done to screen for cancer cells in the breast. The United States Preventive Service Task Force recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram as reported by center for disease control

Treatment: For now, breast cancer could be treated using surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Note that cancer has no particular cure but can be managed. The survival rate is high if detected early enough.

See ways to prevent breast cancer in women.

Resources:
America Cancer Society; Vanguardng.com; Cancer.org; National Cancer Institute

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