Breast Cancer Awareness
Cancer! It’s a dreaded word, a word that often invokes a sense of despair and sometimes even hopelessness. Most people are quite naturally knocked off balance when the diagnosis is cancer. But, the good news is that there is hope.
In today’s era, breast cancer research, prevention diagnosis, and treatment have significantly advanced the war against the ravages of this disease. Breast cancer is a disease you can survive, even if you are at high risk. October is marked as Breast Cancer Awareness month. Now is the right time to spread the word about the importance of detecting breast cancer early and to raise awareness about the treatment options available if you or a loved one are diagnosed.
What is Breast Cancer?
Every organ in the body is made up of various kinds of cells, which are easily distinguished from one another in form and function. Cells normally divide in an orderly way to produce more cells only when they are needed. Each cell is preprogrammed to have a life cycle, and normal cells contain a trigger that begins the process of cell death. This process of regulated growth and death helps keep the body healthy.
Occasionally, cells become abnormal and divide without control or order, or fail to die at the appropriate time. If cells divide when not needed, they form too much tissue called a tumor, which can be benign or malignant. Benign breast tumors are not a threat to life and can be removed via surgery. However, malignant tumors are aggressive and spread rapidly causing damage to nearby organs. The cancer cells can break away and enter the bloodstream forming secondary tumors in other parts of the body causing metastasis. Breast cancers are carcinomas which develop in the surface cells of different tissues.
What causes Breast Cancer?
A woman’s risk of getting breast cancer depends on a number of factors. The good news is, some of these factors can be controlled – diet, weight, frequency of exercise, and use of alcohol are all elements that influence a woman’s risk of breast cancer, and all of these can be managed. However, some factors are difficult to control like genetic attributes – race and family history of cancer and attributes specific to the individual, such as a history of diseases such as uterine and ovarian cancer as well as overall physical history. Physical history includes the woman’s current age, the age she attained puberty, whether or not she had children and breastfed a child, the age she had children or the age at which she reaches menopause.
How to detect Breast Cancer early?
Many women discover their that something may be amiss during a breast self-examination. It is highly recommended that every woman, especially in the fertile age, should examine her breasts every month. It should be a routine check-up as soon as the breasts develop or by age twenty at the latest. Frequent, habitual self-examination is by far the best way to discover cancer while it is small and highly treatable, and finding a small tumor is much better than finding a large one.
How to do a self-examination?
- Stand in front of a mirror. Using the pads of the three middle fingers of your left hand, make small circular motions to examine your right breast with light, medium and then firm pressure.
- Use an up-and-down pattern, as if following narrow vertical stripes, to cover the entire breast and surrounding area – from collarbone to lower bra line to the breastbone, and including the armpit.
- Repeat the above steps using the right hand to examine the left breast.
If you notice a warning sign like a lump or hardness during the examination, see your doctor immediately. The doctor will perform a clinical examination and can prescribe for a mammogram study if needed.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast – a simple process that is widely available and lifesaving. Having a mammogram takes only a few minutes. It is done for screening and diagnostic purposes. Doctors recommend an annual mammogram after age forty, especially if you have ever had breast cancer or if you have a family history of breast cancer. Also, performing ultrasonography can detect whether a lump in the breast is filled with fluid and most likely is a cyst, or if it is solid tissue that might or might not be cancer.
What are the prevention measures that can be taken to avoid Breast Cancer?
It is known that lifestyle factors can influence the risk of breast cancer. 90% of cancers are linked to environmental exposure so one strategy for controlling the rates of breast cancer would be through prevention. The following cancer prevention approaches can be implemented to tackle the risk factors.
There have been multiple studies demonstrating that physical activity can lower the risk of breast cancer by 10-20% compared to those who are inactive. This benefit may be due to the effect on BMI, hormones or energy balance. Physical activity also affects other risk factors such as obesity and insulin resistance. In postmenopausal women, increased weight is associated with increased risk; hence adequate physical exercise is essential to lower the risk of breast cancer.
Evidence has shown that increased intake of fruits and vegetables, limiting caloric intake, and eating whole grains can prevent breast cancer. Eating vegetables decreases breast cancer risk by 6% and eating fruits is associated with a 12% decrease. Antioxidants can reduce cancer risk by promoting DNA repair and metabolic detoxification and decreasing estrogens.
Studies show a large number of carcinogens is found in the products you use in daily life. Commonly used, readily available products and foods are treated with harmful chemicals for longevity. Choose your products wise by carefully reading the ingredients on the label. It is good to choose from organic sources that are easily decomposable and grown in natural environments. Alcohol intake is another risk factor for breast cancer. It increases estrogen levels by impairing metabolism. Increased estrogen levels are associated with high risk for breast cancer. Reduced alcohol intake can help lower the risk.
What are the treatment options available for Breast Cancer?
After a biopsy reveals the presence of a cancerous tumor, the treatment protocol is pursued by the doctor. Surgical resection is crucial to the treatment of breast cancer. However, there are several other medical procedures like radiation and chemotherapy to control the spread of the cancer cells. MRI, scans, and mammograms are mandated by the doctor to visualize the stage of the disease when needed and suitable treatments are given accordingly. After the disease control, annual medical reviews will be requested for clearing off any relapse or abnormality later.
Is Breast Cancer the leading cause of cancer death among women?
Breast cancer may be a very frightening and dangerous disease, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is no hope. Many women have survived for years after being diagnosed with it, and a significant number are cured completely. Death rates are on the decline. Thanks to the advances in detection and treatment that continue to improve prognosis and provide hope even to women with advanced cancer or with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. It is also much easier to detect early and cure than any other cancer. If caught early through self-exams or mammography, breast cancer can be cured.
This October, be informed and aware of Breast Cancer and spread the word on easy steps one can take for early diagnosis.