Breast Cancer – Risk Factors, Symptoms and Prevention
Breast cancer is a form of cancer that occurs in the tissue of the breast. It is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, after skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although death rates have declined in the United States, breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer deaths overall, after lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
About one in eight women will develop this condition at some point during their lifetime but it is most common in 55 to 64-year-old women.
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Breast cancer has a good survival rate when it is discovered early, and it is in a localized stage. This means women should go to regular checkups and screening tests to make sure they discover any unusual changes if any.
Most common types of breast cancer:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma. The cancer cells start in the milk ducts and spread outside the ducts, into other parts of the breast tissue; these cancerous cells can also spread to different parts of the body.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer cells begin in the lobules (glands that make breast milk) and invade nearby breast tissues. These cancer cells can also invade other parts of the body.
Breast Cancer Causes
The causes of cancer cells in the breast tissues are not fully known. Most clinicians agree there are several factors that increase the risks of developing breast cancer. Some can be changed (diet, sedentary lifestyle) while others cannot.
Risk factors you cannot change:
- Getting older
- Genetic mutations
- Reproductive history (starting menstrual periods before age 12 or starting menopause after age 55)
- Dense breasts
- Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases
- Family history of breast cancer
- Previous radiation therapies
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Women with breast cancer don’t always have symptoms before they are diagnosed. However, you should contact your doctor if you notice any of these warning signs:
- A lump or thickened area in your breast or underarm
- A change in your breast’s size or shape
- Bloody or clear nipple discharge
- Changes in the skin of your breast or your nipple (redness or flaky skin)
- Changes in the shape or position of your nipple
- Pain in your breast’s area (pain can be a symptom of breast cancer according to the CDC, but on its own, it isn’t usually a sign of breast cancer)
Breast Cancer Treatment
The treatment for breast cancer very much depends on the type of cancer and whether it is localized or has spread to other areas of the body. Usually, the treatment can consist of a mix of the following procedures:
- Surgery – the cancer tissue is cut out.
- Chemotherapy – the cancer cells are killed with the help of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) medicine.
- Hormonal therapy – lowers the levels of estrogen or progesterone to block the stimulation and growth of cancer cells.
- Biological therapy – helps your body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy – kills cancer cells with controlled high-energy rays.
Breast Cancer Prevention
Your breast cancer risk may be influenced by many factors throughout your lifetime. While there’s nothing you can do about some of them like aging, it is in your power to take care of your health and prevent breast cancer in the following ways:
- Keep your weight in check. Weight gain and obesity increase the risk of developing breast cancer after menopause.
- Be active. Exercise regularly every week, around 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of heavy activity.
- Limit or avoid alcohol. The recommended alcohol intake for women is 1 alcoholic drink per day.
- Breastfeeding can lower breast cancer risk, especially if a woman breastfeeds for longer than 1 year.
- Reduce hormone therapy after menopause.
- Get screened regularly.