Breast cancer is a frightening disease. It can be fatal, and while two thirds of the cases occur among mature women, it also strikes younger females and about nine thousand males each year. The fear generated by breast cancer is intensified by the somewhat shocking reality that breast cancer has actually increased over the last fifty years. In 1940, a woman had a one-in-twenty chance of developing the disease, while today one out of every eight women will get breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, every three minutes somewhere a woman is diagnosed with it.
Yet despite all of the media attention about breast cancer, most people don’t know very much about the illness. Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by cells that change and divide abnormally. If rapid cell division occurs when the body doesn’t need new cells, an abundance of tissue is produced. This mass of tissue, known as a tumor, may be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancerous and may even be completely harmless. Most of the time these can be surgically removed and do not grow back. The cells of benign tumors don’t spread to other parts of the body and do not threaten your life.
Malignant tumors, on the other hand, are cancerous. These tumors can enter and damage surrounding tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from malignant tumors and get in either the blood stream or lymphatic system. When breast cancer spreads outside the breast it usually gets into the lymph nodes under the arms. At this point it probably has already spread to other organs in the body like the liver or lungs, where it will form secondary tumors. Two forms of cancer affect the breast they are ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma.
Ductal carcinoma the commonest form of breast cancer, begins in the lining of the breast’s ducts. The thin tubes connecting various parts of the breast and which lead to the nipple. Lobular carcinoma is found in the breast’s lobules. There are several difference risk factors of breast cancer. As you age the chances of getting breast cancer increases. If you have a family history of breast cancer your risk increases. Women who begin menstruation before age 12 have a higher risk. Women who undergo late menopause or after 50 have a higher risk. Women who had a child before age 30 are less likely to develop breast cancer.
Some research suggests that women who have a diet high in fat are at greater risk of breast cancer. This is not proven but some believe women who drink alcohol may be at higher risk. Some also believe that estrogen enhances the chances of breast cancer. But this research continues with women taking birth control and hormone therapy. Some other factors that have been researched are that women of higher income and education seem to have more breast cancer. Women whose roots can be traced to the Mediterranean area also seem to have more breast cancer.
Research also shows that white women have more breast cancer than women of color. But women of color tend to get a more deadly form of breast cancer. Researchers have also concluded that your environment may increase your risk of breast cancer. Exposure to radiation through medical treatment or exposure to atomic testing increases your risk. Smoking or exposure to second hand smoke increases your risk. Other contaminants can increase your risk such as DDT (pesticides), and some industrial chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) During the early stages of breast cancer there may be no symptoms.
Initially breast cancer is painless so that is why it is important for women to examine their own breasts. When performing breast examination be aware of the warning signs. A lump or thickening of tissue in or around the breast or the underarm area. Any change in breast size or shape. A difference in skin color or texture on any part of the breast. A physician may require a mammogram. This is an x ray of the breast than can detect any growths or irregularities. A mammogram may also detect a lump that is to small to feel. Other techniques used to detect cancer are not used as often as a mammogram.
Some of these techniques are the use of sonograms. Computerized topography or CT scanning detects breast lesions that don’t show up on either mammograms or sonograms. These types of tumors are extremely close to the chest wall. A few other detection devices are magnetic response imaging (MRI), position emission tomography, laser beam scanning, scintimammography (radioactive tracer injected into the blood), and tumor markers which monitor chemical substances in the blood. Once diagnosed with the disease treatment will begin. Breast cancer will be treated in a variety of ways depending on the size and location of the tumor.
Whether or not the cancer has spread and the woman’s age and general health. Cancer treatment are either local or systemic. Local treatments mean surgery and radiation, methods used to remove, destroy or control cancer cells. Systemic treatments are chemotherapy and hormone therapy which attack or control cancer cells throughout the body. Some patients may have only one form of treatment but others require both. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Microsoft Encarta, 1996 “Cancer” 2. Landau, Elaine, “Breast Cancer”, New York, 1995. 3. Anagnostakos, Tortora, “Principles of Anatomy and Physiology”, New York, 1984.