Introduction to Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer AwarenessCredit: By Airman 1st Class Ashley Reed [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Breast cancer affects both women and men although it much more commonly affect women by a factor of at least 100. It typically manifests as tumor lumps which form internally in human breast tissues. Progression of the disease is marked by enlargement of the tumors and subsequent release of cancerous cells into the body. These may lodge in other organs causing debilitating effects which increases in severity, eventually causing death.

The primary successful treatment is through surgical removal of breast tumors. A big key to the effectiveness of surgery is early detection of tumors. The less time a tumor has been developing, the less risk there is for cancerous cells to be released in the body. Many screening methods have been developed in order to help detect tumors at the earliest stages. After detection, medical intervention is warranted with removal of tumors, additional tissue or the entire breast, in order to increase life expectancy of the patient.

Breast Self Exam
Everyone should regularly perform a breast self exam. The procedure involves a person using their fingertips to palpitate their own breast. If any lumps, sore areas or changes are found, then the person is urged to seek medical attention for more advanced diagnosis. When such an exam is performed regularly, the person will be able to recognize an actual tumor, should one be present. People should also be aware of changes to their breast tissue in the form of soreness or abnormal discharge. Obviously discussions with medical staff are advised especially for pregnant or nursing women, menopausal women and those who have experienced chest injuries. Because breast self exams are often inconclusive for many small tumors, women over about 40 years of age are recommended to obtain a mammogram each year. Since this segment of the society is most at risk for breast cancer, most jurisdictions and insurance companies make these procedures available to women for little or no personal cost. A mammogram involves internal examination of breast tissue with x-rays in order to highlight and identify tumors of very small size.

Breast Cancer in Families
It is a fact that breast cancer tends to affect multiple members in a family. If your grandmother and mother had it, you will be at a much higher risk for the disease yourself. This may be especially true if family members get the disease at an early age. Those people who have relatives that were afflicted should be concerned and they should use all available means to monitor themselves for signs of the disease. They should also seek immediate medical attention if any cancer suspicions are found.

Breast Cancer Survival
Thanks to the advances in early detection methods, more and more women are surviving breast cancer. Public health education has emphasized the need for regular physical exams, mammograms and medical intervention. Removal of tumors and subsequent chemotherapy treatment has contributed greatly to the longterm survival of patients. Future medical advances in early detection may come from simple blood tests which are being researched now. Where a diagnosis of breast cancer was often fatal 30 or 40 years ago, now there is a relatively good prognosis for those affected. Treatments are not trivial, of course, but more and more people are surviving for many years after their initial diagnosis.

Breast Cancer in Men
While the disease primarily affects women, it can affect men as well. Unfortunately, men are more likely to die of breast cancer due to the problems of late detection. Often men are not keenly aware of the need to examine their breasts and they may not seek timely medical attention if a problem is suspected. Male symptoms such as pain may be mistakenly explained or masked by muscle soreness and ignored by the patient. Survival is quite possible as evidenced by the 69 year old actor Richard Roundtree who was diagnosed in 1993.

Breast Cancer Research
Many medical researchers have devoted substantial efforts to detection and treatment options in order to combat breast cancer. Many organizations exist solely to obtain funds for such research into this and other forms of cancer. It is through the actions of such agencies that women are far better educated about the realities of the disease, the need for early detection and for viable treatment options. Many of the agencies are dedicated to bringing support for patients to rural areas and even to developing countries. Research is never cheap as it involves wages for extremely specialized personel, sophisocated machinery and lengthy experiments. Since the results thus far have been to increase survivability of breast cancer, society receives a great payback for all research into this disease. Survivors would confirm that the actions of research agencies are vital.

A Personal Experience
My grandmother and her daughter, my aunt, were diagnosed with breast cancer. This makes my mother and sister statistically at higher risk for the disease. While my aunt died directly as a result of breast cancer, my grandmother eventually succumbed to other causes. My mother and sister remain disease free, but vigilant. Both perform regular self exams, obtain mammograms and consult their doctors regularly. I also perform a regular breast exam and have been examined regularly by my doctor and am not affected. My late aunt is survived by five daughters who are obviously at increased risk themselves. The youngsters in our family, (both girls and boys), must remain vigilant for their whole lives. It is in this way that breast cancer has deeply affected our small family. The incidence in two members profoundly affected over twenty five others in grief and in adjustments to health awareness. Our family story with the disease is by no means unique and countless other families have suffered the loss of more members. We join with so many others in our society who have grieved as a result of this terrible disease.

Early Detection is the Key
As mentioned, early detection of breast cancer is the best means to survive the disease. Regular exams help to identify tumors or pre-cancerous lumps at early stages. Investigation of suspected abnormalities leads to direct treatments which can prolong or save the lives of patients. Everyone should perform breast self exams regularly, consult medical staff as appropriate and women should obtain mammograms as they become older. Ignorance and avoidance of the disease is often fatal.