Like most other form of cancer, breast cancer can be treated effectively if detected in the early stages and with the correct treatment. This is why; it is advisable that you keep getting yourself tested frequently. It is also important to educate yourself on the possible symptoms and perform regular self-exams to protect yourself. Do remember though, that not every symptom you notice is cancer and sometimes, what may seem like a suspicious lump, might be completely harmless.
Susceptibility to Breast Cancer
One of the first steps in the prevention of breast cancer is to understand just what your chances of getting the disease are. Several factors can raise your risk quotient.
?†††† Age Factor: As you age, your chances of getting the disease become higher. Studies have shown that 70% of the women that develop breast cancer are 50 years of age or older.
?†††† Sex: It is a common misconception that only women can get breast cancer. While it is extremely rare and more than 99% of affected people are women, men can also get the disease.
?†††† Personal Risk: Any woman who has had breast cancer at any time in her life becomes more prone to getting it again.
?†††† Cancer Gene: It is possible to inherit the cancer gene from one or both parents. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations can cause cancer in 85% of women by the time they reach 70 years of age.
?†††† Family Propensity: If you have a family member who has contracted breast cancer, that could be a signal that you need to have yourself checked more frequently. Especially if the affected person is a member of your immediate family.
?†††† Fertility Drugs: Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a form of estrogen that was prescribed to women. This synthetic hormone was prescribed to women in the 50ís and 60ís to help prevent miscarriages. But, unfortunately, it also raised their risk for getting breast cancer. Also, women whose mothers were given the hormone are also more susceptible to contracting the disease.
?†††† Exposure to Radiation: Women that were given radiation treatment for conditions like Hodgkin’s lymphoma or any other, during their menstruation years, have a higher chance of getting breast cancer.
?†††† Age of Beginning Menstruation: Women that begin with their menstrual cycles at a younger age are exposed to hormones like estrogen and progesterone for longer periods in their lifetime. This can also raise their risk.
?†††† Age of Stopping Menstruation: Women that have menstrual cycles up to the age of 50 to 54 years, also have a higher chance of getting the disease. This is again because of a longer exposure to estrogen and progesterone.
?†††† High Levels of Serum Estradiol: If you have high levels of this hormone in your blood after reaching menopause, your chances of contracting the disease could be higher.
Preventing Breast Cancer
While the above are genetic and natural causes of breast cancer that women have no control over, there are certain precautions that can be taken to lower your chances of getting the disease. Hereís what you need to keep in mind:
?†††† Having Children at an Older Age: It is always advisable to have your first child before the age 29. Women who have children when they are above 29 or donít have any, are more likely to have breast cancer.
?†††† Obesity: Fat cells are known to secrete a kind of hormone that resembles estrogen. Overweight or obese women continue to get exposed to it even in their menopausal years and this make them more susceptible to getting breast cancer. This is why, it is essential to control your weight, as you grow older.
?†††† Sedentary Lifestyle: Getting adequate exercise can lower your risk because an active lifestyle can regulate your hormone levels.
?†††† Drinking: Excessive levels of alcohol can raise the levels of estrogen in women and thus raise their chances of breast cancer.
?†††† Opting for Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT: Women going for HRT are 26% more likely to develop breast cancer 4 to 5 years after taking the treatment. Discuss this probability with your doctor carefully before taking these synthetic hormones.
?†††† Breastfeeding: Not only are breastfed babies healthier, but by breastfeeding for up to 12 months, mothers can also lower their chances of getting breast cancer.
?†††† Smoking: Smoking at a young age can raise your chance of contracting the disease.
?†††† Diet: If your diet includes large amounts of fat and is low in fruits and vegetables, you can expose yourself to a higher risk factor.
?†††† Stress: Stress is linked to a number of health issues and breast cancer is only one of them.
?†††† Inadequate Sun Exposure: Inadequate levels of Vitamin D have also been linked to breast cancer.
?†††† Exposure to Chemicals: Aside from exposure to chemicals in food, water and the environment that every person faces, women also absorb harmful chemicals from the cosmetics and other such products they use. Many of these chemicals could be linked to breast cancer.
Contrary to the scares going around, wearing antiperspirants and bras, especially the underwired ones, have no connection with developing the disease.
Breast Self Exams
This is perhaps one of the best precautions you can take to protect yourself. Monitor the appearance of your breasts and regularly perform self-exams. Talk to your doctor for directions on how and when to check yourself.
Look for these possible symptoms:
?†††† Lumps in the breast (Get it checked immediately)
?†††† Enlarged pores and an orange peel texture of the skin
?†††† Any changes in the look of the skin that you have not seen before
?†††† Lumps in the underarms
?†††† Tenderness or soreness in the nipples
?†††† Abnormal swelling in the breast (Check carefully if it is noticeable only on one side)
?†††† Abnormal shrinking in the breast (Check carefully if it is noticeable only on one side)
?†††† Difference in size that was previously not that noticeable (Breasts are never perfectly symmetrical and one is always slightly bigger than the other)
?†††† Changes in the size and shape of the breast
?†††† Dimples in the breast
?†††† Pain in the breast that is not linked to menstruation, birth control pills or any other infertility medication
?†††† Unexplained weight loss
?†††† Vaginal soreness
?†††† Swelling in the lymph nodes in the armpits
?†††† Swollen veins visible under the skin of the breasts
Appearance of the Nipples
?†††† The nipple recently turns inward or looks inverted
?†††† You notice scaly skin, redness or swelling with ridges in the skin around the areola or nipple.
?†††† The nipple texture resembles an orange peel
?†††† Clear or bloody discharge from the nipple even after you have stopped breastfeeding for a long while
?†††† Rashes on or around the nipple
Normal or Benign Lumps in the Breast
Some women have naturally lumpy breasts because of denser tissues. This is a condition called Fibrocystic Breasts. Thus, it becomes more important to monitor the texture and feel of the breasts so that any abnormal changes can be detected early. The best way to detect a problem in such cases is to get a digital mammography.
Cysts in the Breast
Sometimes what may seem like is lump may be a sac filled with fluid that is completely harmless. Cysts almost never turn into a tumour unless other factors are also present. They may also appear or settle down in synchronization with your menstrual cycle. Cysts can be detected with a simple ultrasound and if needed, your doctor may treat it by simply draining away the fluid.
Atypical Hyperplasia or Atypia
Atypical Hyperplasia or Atypia is a condition that you need to be keenly aware of. This condition has no symptoms and can be a precursor to breast cancer if not taken care of in time. It involves the presence of abnormal cells inside the breast tissue. Over time these cells can turn into a cancer in its specific location or carcinoma in situ, also called noninvasive breast cancer. If it spreads to other tissues in the breast, it is called invasive breast cancer. Typically, the presence of these cells is only detected in a routine mammogram and your doctor might recommend a series of other tests to determine whether these cells need treatment.
Stages of Breast Cancer
When diagnosing breast cancer, doctors talk of Stages 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4. These stages are assessed based on the size of the tumour, and its location. The doctor also checks whether it has spread to the other breast and other parts of the body through the lymphatic system.
1.††† Stage 0: At this stage, the cancer is restricted to only a small part of the breast. Accordingly, the doctor could recommend either removing the mass or the entire breast. Depending on the severity of the cancer, the patient might need radiotherapy and/or hormone therapy.
2.††† Stage 1: This stage is divided into two subcategories, Stage 1A and Stage 1B that are determined by the size of the tumours present and their number. Accordingly, the doctor could recommend removing the lump or the entire breast. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted, and hormone therapy could also be added.
3.††† Stage 2: This stage is also divided into two subcategories, Stage 2A and Stage 2B, again assessed by the size of the tumours and their location. At this stage, more intensive forms of the above-mentioned therapies are recommended.
4.††† Stage 3: This stage is divided into three subcategories, Stage 2A, Stage 2B, and Stage 2C. The treatment for this stage can be either inoperable or operable.
5.††† Stage 4: Also called metastatic or advanced, this form of cancer has spread to other parts of the body and must be treated accordingly.
Remember, being forewarned is being forearmed. Educate yourself extensively on this disease and you could protect yourself and your family by detecting it in the earlier stages or making lifestyle changes to reduce the risk. Please, also note that this article is only intended to inform and provide you with a general outline of breast cancer. If you need detailed information and advice, please consult a certified doctor.