Breast cancer is an abnormal growth or mutation of cells in the breast. It is one of the most common cancers only after cancer of the skin and second leading cause of death after cancer of the lungs. Fortunately with the great forward leaps in breast cancer awareness, screening, and treatments, the death rates have tremendously declined over the years.
It occurs when breast cells tissue mutates abnormally and develops into a tumor. A tumor becomes malignant when the mutating cells start attacking the other areas of the breast(s) or when they metastasize to other organs or parts of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. Nevertheless it is absolutely possible for the male gender to sicken for breast cancer although new cases are close to a hundred times more common in female than male gender. In most cases, breast cancer is diagnosed in women who are fifty years old or above. However this doesn’t mean that the younger women can’t develop the deadly cancer, actually, they do.
Breast cancer Risk Factors
It is every woman wish to know their risk factors and the effective ways of mitigating and reducing their risks.
Let’s have look at the risk factors:
- Age and gender:
As one moves towards old age, their risk of developing breast cancer also increases and women of 50 years and above have the highest risk. Moreover, people of the female gender are at higher risk of developing the cancer than the male gender. This means women are the most prone to getting breast cancer.
About five to ten percent of breast cancers are inherited through passing down of defective genes from one generation to the next especially the BRCA1 and BRACA2 genes. However, having these genes is not a guarantee that a woman will develop breast cancer but it highly increases the chances of getting one.
3. Family History
Women with a close blood relative who previously had or has breast cancer are at a greater risk of getting breast cancer than women without a family history of relatives with breast cancer.
4. Personal history
Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have a very high probability of developing same cancer in the other breast or other parts of the same breast.
5.Race and ethnicity
White women are at an elevated risk of getting breast cancer than blacks, Asian and Hispanic. However black American women are prone to developing more aggressive cancers Additionally black Americans together with Hispanics are more likely to die from the breast cancer than the whites.
6. Obesity and overweight women
Women with obesity condition, have a higher risk of being stricken with breast cancer most especially after reaching menopause than women with a healthy weight.
7. Exposure to Radiation
Women who previously had chest radiation therapy to treat other types of cancers are likely to get breast cancer.
8. Changes in the Breast(s)
If a woman has been diagnosed with benign breast conditions, she becomes at higher risk of being afflicted with breast cancer.
9. Dense Breast
On top of making it hard for breast cancer to be detected, dense breast is five times more likely to develop breast cancer.
10 .Mensuration history
Women who had their first menstruation when they were younger than the age of 12 are at higher risk of developing breast cancer.
11. Pregnancy History
Women who had their first pregnancy after 30 years of age are more prone to developing breast cancer. Additionally women who breastfeed their children for one year and above have a lower risk of developing this cancer.
12. Hormone Replacement Therapy
Women taking or who took hormone replacement therapy to treat health problems associated with menopause, containing a combination of progesterone and estrogen have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
13. Smoking (passive and active)
This dangerous habit doesn’t only cause breast cancer but is well linked to a sea of other dangerous diseases and health conditions.
Drinking alcohol increases a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.
16.Lack of exercise
As you know exercise has a profound positive impact on the health of a person. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to increased risk of developing a number of cancers and the opposite is true.
There are also other emerging risks, off course caused by our modern lifestyle.
- Exposure to light at night
- Low levels of Vitamin D
- Eating unhealthy food
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol
- Exposure to chemicals in :cosmestics,food,sunscreen,plastic,water and grilled food.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
These are the tale tale markers that if a woman notices, she should go to the hospital for further diagnosis. It also is important for women to embrace the good habit of breast self assessment, which entails knowing how their breast normally looks like and being able to spot the slightest change, then taking an action of informing the doctor for further examination.
The main signs and symptoms which would raise the red flags are
- Changes in the breast size and shape
- Inverted nipple
- Nipple discharge
- Redness of the breast
- Scaling or peeling of breast skin
- New lump in the armpit or breast
- Experiencing Pain in the breast, armpit, and nipple
- Red thick and scaly nipple
- Having lymph nodes which are swollen
Process of Screening and diagnosing breast cancer
Any disease, not only cancer, prevention is always recommended but in the unfortunate event one contracts a disease, detecting it early is always the key, so that the condition is dealt with expeditiously without damaging the quality of life.
The doctor will perform a physical breast exam to looking for the specific signs and symptoms of suspected breast cancer.
A mammogram and MRI imaging machines are also used for screening purposes with the latter being used in women who are at an incresed risk of developing the breast cancer.
Another imaging device used is the breast ultrasound,which uses sound waves to produce images of deep body structures to determine whether new cancers are in lump or fluid form.
A biopsy is also done, which entails removing a sample of breast tissue for testing and moreover is the only definitive diagnostic method for detecting breast cancer. The sample is sent to the laboratory to determine the type of cells involved in the breast cancer, the stage and whether there are hormone receptors or other kinds of receptors in order to decide on the treatment options.
It is very golden for women to go for regular checkups in order to find and treat the cancer early. Women who are at a higher risk should start screening procedures earlier than the rest. Check your risk for breast cancer with this assessment tools
Cancer Of the breast stages
The stage information of the cancer is very helpful in the projection and determination of the best treatment options for that specific type of breast cancer. Different tests and procedures may be used to determine the stages like blood diagnosis, mammogram, biopsy, MRI, computerized tomography(CT scan), and positron emission tomography. A woman may not undergo all these processes. It is the doctors who will choose the appropriate tests and procedures for each individual woman.
Breast cancer has stage 0 to stage IV
There is no evidence of fast spreading breast cancer; the cells are noncancerous and the abnormal cells aren’t growing and spreading to other areas of the body.
This stage is an illustration of an aggressive breast cancer which is still small and has not spread to the lymph nodes or have spread to smal part of the first few lymph nodes
This stage, chronicles an aggressive type of breast cancer which are larger than the first stage of cancer but has spread to between one to three the first few lymph nodes
it is a fast growing breast cancer that is larger and spreading into adjacent cells such as skin of the breasts.
This stage is involves description of a malignant and aggressive breast cancer which has moved beyond the breasts and conterminous lymph nodes to other parts of the body like the skin and liver.
Types of Breast Cancers
These are many types of breast cancers here are some:
Inflammatory breast cancer
Can either be of stage three or stage four cancer and treatment is done through systematic therapies and local therapies .Example Chemotherapy and radiotherapy respectively.
Triple Negative breast cancer
This is a type of breast cancer with lack of estrogen, progesterone hormone receptors and also little or no HER2 receptor. These three receptors are responsible for fast growth of the cancer. Hormone treatment is not usually an option because they lack hormone receptors. Similarly drug targeting HER2 won’t be of any help due to the little or lack of HER2 receptor in the cancer cells.
Recurring Breast Cancer
This is a breast cancer which returns after initially being treatment. Its treatment depends on the location on which the cancer has reoccurred and the previous method of treatment.
Breast Cancer Treatment Options
Breast cancer Surgery
This is the surgical treatment of breast cancer and it may include
This involves excising the complete breast tissue which includes the lobule, fatty tissues, part of the skin, duct and even the nipple and areola. In selected individuals, modern surgical techniques are employed to improve the mien of the breast.Morever Nipple and skin paring surgery are the most common.
Sentinel node biopsy
This is the surgical extirpation of the initial few lymph nodes (sentinel lymph nodes) where the cancer has spread. If cancer is not found in those nodes then the chance of other lymph nodes having the cancer is extremely small. Therefore there is no need for further deracination .
Axillary node biopsy
This usually involves removing several other extended lymph nodes (axillary lymph nodes) when cancer is found in the sentinel lymph node.
This is the excision of specific cancer tumor which, involves removing the breast cancer cells and a small portion of the normal adjacent cells. Lumpectomy is usually recommended for removing small tumors however for large ones, chemotherapy is first done to shrink the tumor before the lumpectomy procedure is done.
Removing the two breasts
This is the surgical excision of both breasts depending on the spread or the risk of the other remaining breast, developing the same cancer.
Breasts in women are usually associated with beauty, sexualism and feminism thereby might bring image issues for them when removed, prompting many to opt for breast reconstruction after treatment.
Typically done using high energy beams like protons and x-ray, focused on the cancer cells to damage them. The therapy can be done externally (external beaming radiation) using a large machine, aiming energy beams at the body and it can also be done alternately, by placing radioactive elements in the body (brachytherapy), to completely damage the cancer cells.
External beaming radiation, is usually done after lumpectomy while brachytherapy may be done after lumpectomy, only if the risk of developing the cancer again is low. Radiation therapy normally takes a range period of between, three to forty two days
This is a treatment whereby, drugs are used to damage and kill strong growing cancer cells . In the cases where there are higher risks of the breast cancers reoccurring, chemotherapy is usually recommended. Sometimes it is given to women before surgery in order to shrink the tumor for complete and easy excision. The side effects depends on the drugs administered and some of them include damage to the kidney and heart, premature menopause, infertility and in rare cases blood cancer.
Is a treatment used on cancers with hormone receptor commonly known as estrogen receptor positive and progesterone receptor? They can be used before or after surgery to reduce the risk of reoccurrence and also to shrink or control the breast cancer tumor.
These are the treatments used in hormone therapy
Aromatase inhibitors; are medications which stops the body from producing estrogen after menopause.
Selective estrogen receptor modulators; are drugs preventing hormones from attaching to cancer cells.
Medication or surgery; to stop ovaries from producing hormones.
Specifics of the treatment determine the side effects of the therapy which may include vaginal dryness, flashes, blood clot and high risk of bone thinning.
Targeted Therapy drugs
This still an active area of research and it involves drugs that damage specific cells with identified abnormalities. Take, for example, breast cancer cells have a tendency of overproducing epidermal growth factor (HER2) that helps them to grow and survive. These cells can be targeted by drugs. Moreover, other abnormalities of a cancerous cell are available.It may also be used to suppress reoccurrence of breast cancer after surgery.
When visiting a cancer doctor who can be gynecologist, medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist or a case worker for diagnosis, prognosis and treatment, it is important to know which questions to ask and what to expect from the doctor .You can access them here in pdf form
In Kenya some of the hospitals providing breast cancer diagnosis and treatment include:
- M.pshah hospital
- Aghakhan University Hospital
- Kenyatta Hospital
- Nairobi Hospital
- Nairobi Women Hospital
- Mater Hospital
- Kijabe Mission Hospital
- Moi teaching and referral Hospital
- Coast Province Hospital
- Tenwek Hospital
- Beacon Health Services Cancer treatment center
But generally if you go to any referral hospital they will be able to give good referrals as far as breast cancer or any other diagnosis and treatment is concerned. AghaKhan University hospital offers the highest quality palliative care services in Kenya for cancer patients.They have a rich multidisciplinary team comprising of specialists across the medical field
To create awareness,world breast cancer awareness month was set up to be celebrated on the month of October ever year.
Reducing the risk of Breast Cancer
- Don’t smoke
- Avoid Alcohol
- Exercise regularly
- The time length and dose of hormone replacement therapy should be limited
- Exposure to environmental pollution and radiation should be avoided
- Should eat a healthy diet
- Adopt good breastfeeding habit
- Cook real food
- Know your packaging
- Know your labels
- Avoid empty calories
- Know your personal and family history
- Sleep well.
There is not a single doubt that breast cancer is a ruthless killer who has claimed millions of lives around the world and also lowered quality of life adversely.Fortunately when discovered early it can be defeated. This warrants regular breast cancer examination. One thing, woman should not about forget self-breast assessment, it is very crucial. Lastly always think pink, live green and protect your breasts.