Breast cancer is one of the most common type of cancer affecting women across the world. It is the second leading cause of cancer related death among women (lung cancer being the number one). However, according to cancer.org, death rates from breast cancer among females has dropped 40%! Since 2007, even though breast cancer incidence has been steady among women below the age of 50, it has reduced significantly for women above 50 years old.
Increased awareness about breast cancer, early screening and detection, and better treatment options have been the reason for this significant decrease. As with any other cancer, early detection of breast cancer plays a pivotal role in the effective management of the disease. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent breast cancer and since cancer does not discriminate between anyone, there is no way to predict who can get it and who cannot. There are certain risk factors, however, which may tip the scale for few. Those who belong to these risk categories, should get regular cancer screening done – the survival rate for women whose cancer has been detected early is quite high.
The following are some of the known risk factors for breast cancer. Nevertheless, it is important to note that breast cancer cannot be linked to any specific cause and women above the age of 40 should consult their doctor for regular screening and advise.
- Age: The older a women gets, the higher the chance of getting breast cancer
- Inherited Genes: Inherited mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer
- Family History: If siblings, mother, grandmother or any close relative has or has had breast cancer, then the risks are increased for the other members
- Personal History: Those who’ve had breast cancer previously, are at increased risk of getting it again
- Childbearing history: Women who have children at a later age are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. Also, women who’ve never had children are also at a higher risk.
- Menstrual history: Women who started menstruating early (before the age of 12) and or had menopause quite late (after 55) are at higher risk
Apart from these there are certain other factors which can trigger the occurrence of breast cancer as well. They are:
- Women who have dense breast tissue
- Women who are obese
- Women who are not active and are not involved in any physical activity]
- Women who have used oral contraceptives for a long time
- Women who underwent hormone therapy after menopause
- Women who were exposed to certain drugs such as diethylstilbestrol
EARLY SIGNS OF BREAST CANCER
A regular self-examination is probably one of the best way to detect breast cancer. We are all aware of the fact that breast cancer can cause a lump to form in the breast – women everywhere are being educated about this symptom, since it is the first sign of breast cancer. But, apart from this, women should also be aware of other signs and symptoms, which could indicate the occurrence of breast cancer.
- Pain in the armpits
- A sunken nipple
- Changing shape or size of the breast
- An inverted nipple
- Unnatural discharge from the nipples
- Peeling, flaking of scaling of the skin on and around the breast
Early detection of breast cancer is very crucial, since it can help the patient get access to an increased number of treatment options and increase their survival rate as well.
The early detection methods of breast cancer (apart from self-examination of course) are clinical mammogram and clinical examination.
Clinical Mammogram: Mammogram is the best option for detecting breast cancer. In fact, mammogram can detect lumps at least two years before it can be felt. Women above the age of 40 years should get a mammogram done every two years. Though it is not usually done for women below the age of 40, women who have family history of breast cancer or mutated genes can get a mammogram done earlier on in life.
Women should not put off mammograms because of fear or discomfort. Mammograms are not painful and not all anomalies found during a mammogram is cancerous. But, should there be a possibility of getting breast cancer, then the sooner it is found, the better. Early detection of breast cancer is associated with an improved quality of life.
Clinical Examination: Clinical breast examination is the process of getting the breasts examined by trained healthcare professionals. These professionals will check the breast for any changes and symptoms, that could be an indication of breast cancer. Scaling of skin, discharge, lumpiness etc. are usually checked for and if they suspect any anomaly, then further tests are recommended.
Clinical examination may not be the best method for early detection of breast cancer; however, regular examinations can be useful.
If any of the above tests show that a woman may have breast cancer, then a breast biopsy is performed to confirm it. During a breast biopsy, some of the tissue and fluid is removed from the suspected area and examined under a microscope. Biopsy is the only method of definitely diagnosing breast cancer. It can also help the doctor stage the cancer and determine the course of treatment.
Breast cancer awareness is the best way to detect breast cancer early. Not only women, but men should also be aware of the early signs and symptoms and ways to lower the risk of getting breast cancer. Encouraging breast cancer survivors to come forward and tell their story can create an impression on everyone and this is probably one of the most impactful way of creating breast cancer awareness.