Breast cancer is a kind of cancer that develops from breast cells. Breast cancer usually starts off in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply them with milk. A malignant tumor can spread to other parts of the body. A breast cancer that started off in the lobules is known as lobular carcinoma, while one that developed from the ducts is called ductal carcinoma. The vast majority of breast cancer cases occur in females. This article focuses on breast cancer in women. We also have an article about male breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in females worldwide. It accounts for 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women. 18.2% of all cancer deaths worldwide, including both males and females, are from breast cancer. Breast cancer rates are much higher in developed nations compared to developing ones. There are several reasons for this, with possibly life-expectancy being one of the key factors - breast cancer is more common in elderly women; women in the richest countries live much longer than those in the poorest nations. The different lifestyles and eating habits of females in rich and poor countries are also contributory factors, experts believe. According to the National Cancer Institute, 232,340 female breast cancers and 2,240 male breast cancers are reported in the USA each year, as well as about 39,620 deaths caused by the disease.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Some of the possible early signs of breast cancer
A symptom is only felt by the patient, and is described to the doctor or nurse, such as a headache or pain. A sign is something the patient and others can detect, for example, a rash or swelling. The first symptoms of breast cancer are usually an area of thickened tissue in the woman's breast, or a lump. The majority of lumps are not cancerous; however, women should get them checked by a health care professional.
Women who detect any of the following signs or symptoms should tell their doctor (NHS, UK): A lump in a breast, A pain in the armpits or breast that does not seem to be related to the woman's menstrual period, Pitting or redness of the skin of the breast; like the skin of an orange, A rash around (or on) one of the nipples, A swelling (lump) in one of the armpits, An area of thickened tissue in a breast, One of the nipples has a discharge; sometimes it may contain blood; The nipple changes in appearance; it may become sunken or inverted;The size or the shape of
Causes of breast cancer
the breast changes; The nipple-skin or breast-skin may have started to peel, scale or flake.
Experts are not definitively sure what causes breast cancer. It is hard to say why one person develops the disease while another does not. We know that some risk factors can impact on a woman's likelihood of developing breast cancer. These are:
1) Getting older: The older a woman gets, the higher is her risk of developing breast cancer; age is a risk factor. Over 80% of all female breast cancers occur among women aged 50+ years (after the menopause).
2) Genetics: Women who have a close relative who has/had breast or ovarian cancer are more likely to develop breast cancer. If two close family members develop the disease, it does not necessarily mean they shared the genes that make them more vulnerable, because breast cancer is a relatively common cancer. The majority of breast cancers are not hereditary. Women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a considerably higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. These genes can be inherited. TP53, another gene, is also linked to greater breast cancer risk.
3) A history of breast cancer: Women who have had breast cancer, even non-invasive cancer, are more likely to develop the disease again, compared to women who have no history of the disease.
4) Having had certain types of breast lumps: Women who have had some types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps are more likely to develop cancer later on. Examples include atypical ductal hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ.
5) Dense breast tissue: Women with more dense breast tissue have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.
6) Estrogen exposure: Women who started having periods earlier or entered menopause later than usual have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This is because their bodies have been exposed to estrogen for longer. Estrogen exposure begins when periods start, and drops dramatically during the menopause.
7) Obesity: Post-menopausal obese and overweight women may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Experts say that there are higher levels of estrogen in obese menopausal women, which may be the cause of the higher risk.
8) Height: Taller-than-average women have a slightly greater likelihood of developing breast cancer than shorter-than-average women. Experts are not sure why.
9) Alcohol consumption: The more alcohol a woman regularly drinks, the higher her risk of developing breast cancer is. The Mayo Clinic says that if a woman wants to drink, she should not exceed one alcoholic beverage per day.
10) Radiation exposure: Undergoing X-rays and CT scans may raise a woman's risk of developing breast cancer slightly. Scientists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found that women who had been treated with radiation to the chest for a childhood cancer have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
11) HRT (hormone replacement therapy): Both forms, combined and estrogen-only HRT therapies may increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer slightly. Combined HRT causes a higher risk.
12) Certain jobs: French researchers found that women who worked at night prior to a first pregnancy had a higher risk of eventually developing breast cancer. Canadian researchers found that certain jobs, especially those that bring the human body into contact with possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors are linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Examples include bar/gambling, automotive plastics manufacturing, metal-working, food canning and agriculture. They reported their findings in the November 2012 issue of Environmental Health.
Preventing breast cancer
Some lifestyle changes can help significantly reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption - women who drink in moderation, or do not drink alcohol at all, are less likely to develop breast cancer compared to those who drink large amounts regularly. Moderation means no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
Physical exercise - exercising five days a week has been shown to reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill reported that physical activity can lower breast cancer risk, whether it be either mild or intense, or before/after menopause. However, considerable weight gain may negate these benefits.
Diet - some experts say that women who follow a healthy, well-balanced diet may reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. A study published in BMJ (June 2013 issue) found that women who regularly consumed fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids had a 14% lower risk of developing breast cancer, compared to other women. The authors, from Zhejiang University, China, explained that a "regular consumer" should be eating at least 1 or 2 portions of oily fish per week (tuna, salmon, sardines, etc).
Postmenopausal hormone therapy - limiting hormone therapy may help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. It is important for the patient to discuss the pros and cons thoroughly with her doctor.
Bodyweight - women who have a healthy bodyweight have a considerably lower chance of developing breast cancer compared to obese and overweight females.
Women at high risk of breast cancer - the doctor may recommend estrogen-blocking drugs, including tamoxifen and raloxifene. Tamoxifen may raise the risk of uterine cancer. Preventive surgery is a possible option for women at very high risk.
Breast cancer screening - patients should discuss with their doctor when to start breast cancer screening exams and tests.
Breastfeeding - women who breastfeed run a lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to other women. A team of researchers from the University of Granada in Spain reported in the Journal of Clinical Nursing that breastfeeding for at least six months reduces the risk of early breast cancer. This only applies to non-smoking women, the team added. They found that mothers who breastfed for six months or more, if they developed breast cancer, did so on average ten years later than other women.
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