Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a disease that occurs due to malignant cells forming in the breast tissues and mostly occurs in women though men too can develop it (Slowik). It is the 2nd most cause of death among women second only to lung cancer. Estimates from the American Cancer Society indicate that 192,370 women were expected to be diagnosed in 2009 and 40,170 women were expected to die from breast cancer. In men, the cancer is very rare and roughly has a less than 1 occurrence rate (Warren and Devine). Breast cancer occurs due to abnormal cell growth that goes out of control and forms masses of cells or tumors. When these masses of cells have their origin in the tissues of the breast, it becomes a breast tumor hence breast cancer. There are broadly two types of breast cancers Lobular carcinoma and ductal carcinoma (Slowik). If the cancer cells in the breast are restricted to the breast lobule and ducts, then the cancer is called non-invasive. If however cells have moved from the ducts and lobules to the tissues surrounding the breasts then it is an invasive cancer.

There is no definite cause of breast cancer that is known. However, risk factors that cause cancer are known. Some of the risk factors cannot be avoided or changed.

Gender is one such risk factor. Women are at a main risk of the disease due to their gender. Though men can get the disease, chances are 1 in 100 times.

Age also increases the chances. As women get older, their chances of getting breast cancer are higher. It is not however unlikely for younger women to get breast cancer.

Genetics also matters. Inherited genes may be cancerous and lead to the cancer.

Family history and cases of breast cancer in ones family also increase the chances. However, 70-80 of a lot of women with breast cancer usually do not have a history of the disease in their family.
Radiation exposure on the breast that might have occurred due to radiation treatment on areas close to the breast such as the chest increases the risk. The risk is high if exposure was at an early stage such as teenage years.

Menstrual cycles and periods that occur in women at early ages (before 12) increase the risk of the disease due to exposure to estrogen and progesterone hormones.

Different races have different risks of breast cancer. White women are at a higher risk of breast cancer compared to African-American women.

Density of the breast tissue in women. Women with dense breast tissue, an indication that there is more of the gland than fatty tissue, have a higher risk.

A history of breast cancer in women also increases the risk as women with previous case of breast cancer have a higher chance of contracting breast cancer in the non-cancerous breast (Stephan).

A lot of breast cancers do not have symptoms that are obvious and they tend to vary. There is no pain and therefore harder to detect. However, some signs could indicate breast cancer. Presence of a lump in the breast or armpit is a classic indicator of breast cancer. The swelling may be due to changes in the hormones but if persistent, it should raise concern. Change in the size of the breast and shape is also an indicator. A change in breast size of a mature breast might mean a swelling of the milk ducts. A mammogram is advised to note the changes. Fluid leak from a nipple may also occur and the leak, of a non-bloody nature, occurs due to changes in hormones. However, if that leak is from one nipple and is bloody, tests should be conducted to discover the cause. Changes in the size, shape, color, texture of the nipple or the areola could indicate signs of breast cancer but when discovered at its early stages, it is curable. Women are advised to do breast self-examinations as part of a monthly routine. Annual mammograms and checkups by physicians are recommended. Catching the cancer early is vital (Stoppler).

The treatment of the cancer is determined highly by the type of breast cancer, the stage and sensitivity of the hormones. Treatment may consist of Surgical operations which involve the removal of the tumor (lumpectomy), entire breast (mastectomy) and one or several of the lymph nodes Radiation therapy involves use of energy beams with a lot of power to eliminate the cancer cells e.g. x-rays. The beam is focused on the body externally or internally (brachytherapy). There are however side effects such as fatigue and rashes Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill the cancer cells. Loss of hair, nausea, fever and vomiting are some of the side effects Hormone therapy focuses treatment on the cancers caused by sensitive hormones. Use after surgery and other treatments to decrease occurrence of a return is not rare (Cancer Research UK).

Occurrences of breast cancer are more common in women. Focus on research and studies on how it can be prevented in women will help both men and women. Developing countries have also started showing increases in cases of breast cancer due to change in lifestyles. There has been awareness on breast cancer worldwide.


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