Worldwide, out of all the cancers, breast cancer accounts for 23% of all cancers found in women. 14% of all cancer related deaths in women are caused by breast cancer. However, do not think you are safe from it as a man. Though very rare, breast cancer can occur in men and even mammals other than humans.
Though breast cancer is highly treatable and even preventable, the treatments and preventions can often be drastic. Survival rates in the western world are extremely high, though they are much lower in developing countries. Still, like all cancer, if the signs are ignored the cancer can spread to other parts of the body and become much harder to fight and more deadly.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer sound fairly straight-forward. It is obviously a cancerous tumor that starts within the human breast. The breast is mainly made up of lobules, which are milk-producing glands. These care connected by ducts that carry the milk from the lobules to the nipples. The rest of the mass is made up by fatty tissue as well as connective tissue and blood vessels. This cancer usually occurs in the cells around the lobules or ducts. It rarely occurs in the other tissues, but can happen.
It is important to have regular exams to check for this cancer as some tumors start off benign and are essentially harmless, but malignant tumors will spread to the rest of the body.
The BRCA Gene Mutation
New breast cancer research has discovered the mutation of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene that puts those that have it at an extremely higher risk for developing this disease. This also comes with an increased risk for ovarian cancer as well. These genes, when unmutated, are actually responsible for repressing tumors, however when mutated they aid in tumor development.
Women in general have a 12% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. This percentage is raised if women in your bloodline have previously developed breast cancer. However, those with a mutated BRCA gene have an additional 60% to develop this cancer. For women with this mutated gene it is not a matter of 'if' but more a matter of 'when'.
This gene mutation became popularized when actress Angelina Jolie announced she had both of her breasts removed in secret as she had the mutated BRCA gene as well as a mother who died from ovarian cancer. This raised her risk of breast cancer to an astounding 87%!
The biggest controversy with this gene is the testing for it. The company that discovered this mutation patented the test for it. Now a person can only receive the test from that company for a whopping price of $3,000 dollars. Science is no long the business of aiding humanity and more of a business for money now it seems.
Signs of Breast Cancer
It is recommended that women over 40 have a mammogram to check for breast cancer every year, especially if it runs in the family. However, there are some signs to watch for that can point to this disease.
Signs of breast cancer include:
- A lump, either soft or hard, inside the breast or in the underarm area
- A swollen, warm, red, or darkening area on the breast
- Change in size or shape of the breast
- Dimpled skin
- An itchy, scaly, sore, or rashy nipple
- One nipple becoming an 'innie', being sucked in.
- Pain in the breast that does not go away
- Discharge from the nipple
These are symptoms for both women and men.
You should consult a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. However, do not immediately think it is cancer. Especially if you find a lump. Many pockets of fat can get bunched up in the breast and form a lump. Though it is better to be safe than sorry.
Can You Prevent Breast Cancer?
There many steps women can take to prevent this. Most of them are steps people take to prevent most types of cancer and other health problems. Regular exercise, eating properly, and maintaining a healthy weight are all things that will help prevent this from happening to you.
However, in addition to a healthy life style, this cancer can be prevented by avoiding alcohol as a Harvard Nurses' Study found that women who consume one or more drinks daily increase their cancer risk 25%. Women should also avoid prescription estrogen if they can. The exposure to estrogen throughout our life is fundamental to the development of breast cancer. As women age, our estrogen levels naturally get lower. Thus why those who increase their estrogen pharmaceutically are exposed to higher risk.
If you find yourself at a high risk for this scary condition either from family history or a mutated BRCA gene, you can always go for more drastic measures. The aforementioned example of Angelina Jolie having her breasts removed was preventative. The best way to avoid this disease is to have the breast tissue removed. Woman can opt to bare their flat chest proudly, or can opt to have implant inserted and gradually filled with fluid to allow the skin time to expand and mimic a natural breast.
Treatments for Breast Cancer
Once breast cancer is developed there are many different paths to take for treatment. If discovered early, most doctors will recommend surgery to remove the tumor before it can spread. If detected early, this is enough to work, though once you have had it, it is likely it will come back. Some women opt to have their breasts remove to prevent it from returning. However, to try and stave off a reoccurrence, women will undergo hormone therapy that attempts to lower the amount of estrogen in the body, which promotes cancerous cell growth.
If the surgery to remove the tumor was unsuccessful, doctors will then resort to the normal cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy.
The word cancer scares a lot of people, however breast cancer is among the most treatable. I cannot stress this enough, like with all cancer it is important to catch it early so it can be treated. When treated the mortality rate is fairly lower as long as it does not spread. Next time you are feeling around and feel a lump, don't panic, but do see a doctor. With any luck it will be treatable or not even cancer at all. Many things can happen in the breast as women age that are often confused for something worse. So take a deep breath and hope for the best.