October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the steps to have a plan to detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same. About 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2016, an estimated 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 61,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer (according to breastcancer.org).
Understanding Breast Cancer
Cancer is a broad term for a class of diseases characterized by abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body. This happens during the process of cell growth when something goes wrong; new cells form when the body doesn’t need them, and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. When this occurs, a buildup of cells often forms a mass of tissue called a lump, growth, or tumor. Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast tissue. If not caught, the abnormal cells can then spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body.
There are two types of breast cancer tumors: those that are non-cancerous (benign) and those that are cancerous (malignant). When a tumor is diagnosed as benign, doctors will usually leave it alone rather than remove it. Even though these tumors are not generally aggressive toward surrounding tissue, occasionally they may continue to grow, pressing on organs and causing pain or other problems. In these situations, the tumor is removed, allowing pain or complications to subside. Malignant tumors are cancerous and aggressive because they invade and damage surrounding tissue. When a tumor is suspected to be malignant, the doctor will perform a biopsy to determine the severity or aggressiveness of the tumor. Metastatic cancer is when cancer cells of a malignant tumor spread to other parts of the body (usually through the lymph system) and form a secondary tumor.
Causes & Risks
No one knows the exact causes of breast cancer. Doctors seldom know why one person develops breast cancer and another doesn’t, and most men (yes, men can get breast cancer too, though it is much less common) and women who have breast cancer will never be able to pinpoint an exact cause. What we do know is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to a cell’s DNA.
Women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. Some risk factors (such as drinking alcohol) can be avoided. But most risk factors (such as having a family history of breast cancer) can’t be avoided. Having a risk factor does not mean that a woman will get breast cancer. Many women who have risk factors never develop breast cancer.
Risk factors include:
- Lack of physical activity
- Poor Diet
- Being overweight or obese
- Drinking alcohol frequently
- Radiation to the chest
- Combined hormone replacement therapy.
Sixty-seventy percent of people with breast cancer have no connection to these risk factors at all, and other people with risk factors will never develop cancer.
Working with a doctor to guide your breast cancer treatment decisions is key. Determine what you need to do to cultivate a positive partnership with your doctor and when it might be prudent to seek a second opinion. Before selecting your breast cancer treatment plan, it’s a good idea to understand the difference between standard treatment and clinical trials so you can make an informed decision about what is right for you. The most common form of treatment for breast cancer is surgery. This involves removing the tumor and nearby margins. Surgical options may include a lumpectomy, partial mastectomy, radical mastectomy, and reconstruction. Chemotherapy is a breast cancer treatment method that uses a combination of drugs to either destroy cancer cells or slow down the growth of cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects the nearby skin or cells only in the part of the body that is treated with the radiation.
Facts About Breast Cancer in the United States
- One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
- Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women.
- Each year it is estimated that over 246,660 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die.
- Although breast cancer in men is rare, an estimated 2,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 440 will die each year.
- A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes, and one woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes.
- Over 2.8 million breast cancer survivors are alive in the United States today.
- Gender: Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
- Age: Two out of three women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55.
- Race: Breast cancer is diagnosed more often in Caucasian women than women of other races.
- Family History and Genetic Factors: If your mother, sister, father or child has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, you have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the future. Your risk increases if your relative was diagnosed before the age of 50.
- Personal Health History: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast in the future. Also, your risk increases if abnormal breast cells have been detected before (such as atypical hyperplasia, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
- Menstrual and Reproductive History: Early menstruation (before age 12), late menopause (after 55), having your first child at an older age, or never having given birth can also increase your risk for breast cancer.
- Dense Breast Tissue: Having dense breast tissue can increase your risk for breast cancer and make lumps harder to detect. Several states have passed laws requiring physicians to disclose to women if their mammogram indicates that they have dense breasts so that they are aware of this risk. Be sure to ask your physician if you have dense breasts and what the implications of having dense breasts are.
Breast cancer is not contagious; you can’t contract cancer from a person who has the disease. It is not caused by wearing underwire bras, implants, deodorants, antiperspirants, mammograms, caffeine, plastic food serving items, microwaves, or cell phones, as myths often suggest.
In recent years, perhaps coinciding with the decline in prescriptive hormone replacement therapy after menopause, we have seen a gradual reduction in female breast cancer incidence rates among women aged 50 and older. Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, in part due to better screening and early detection, increased awareness, and continually improving treatment options.
Please join the fight against breast cancer. Your support helps raise awareness and funds to help in treatment.