October is the month everyone goes pink for breast cancer awareness. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in America. Breast cancer is something that affects both men and women. It’s estimated that 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2019, and 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. While it’s rare for men to be diagnosed with breast cancer, approximately 2,670 men will be diagnosed in 2019.
What exactly is breast cancer?
Cancer is the term used to describe abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body. Depending on where these abnormal cells are and where they spread to, is how it’s classified. So how does breast cancer come about? It starts in the healthy cells of the breast tissue, sometimes the growth process of a cell goes wrong and new cells form when the body doesn’t need them. Instead of the old cells dying, they don’t die as they should. This buildup of cells is called a tumor, or lump. Cells from the tumor can break away and enter blood vessels or lymph vessels which transports it throughout the body, thus spreading the cancer. This process is called metastasis.
What causes someone to have breast cancer?
Damage to a cell’s DNA is what causes cancer, but how the DNA gets damaged is still unknown. Why one woman develops breast cancer over another woman is something that’s not quite figured out by medical professionals yet. What is known, is certain risk factors put women at a higher risk for developing it, some of which you have control over and others that you don’t.
Risk factors you can control:
Lack of physical activity
Being overweight/ obese
Radiation to chest
Combined hormone replacement therapy
Risk factors you can’t control:
Gender (more likely to occur in women than men)
Age (2/3 women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55)
Race (more often Caucasian women)
Family history and genetic factors
Personal health history
Menstrual and reproductive history
Certain genome changes
Dense breast tissue
“BRCA” is a word often heard when talking about breast cancer, what does it stand for and what does it mean? BRCA is the ‘BReast CAncer gene.’ There is BRCA 1 and BRCA 2- they don’t cause breast cancer; they actually are tumor suppressor genes and play a role in preventing breast cancer. When there is a gene mutation, the gene doesn’t function properly and the tumor suppression genes don’t work. A small percentage of people carry a mutated BRCA gene, meaning it’s no longer effective at repairing DNA. Those who carry the mutated gene are more likely to develop breast cancer.
What can I do?
Early detection is KEY! It is said that when localized stage breast cancer is detected early, the 5-year survival rate is 100%. Scheduling regular clinical breast exams, mammograms, doing monthly self-checks, and being aware of signs and symptoms of breast cancer is so important. Should you notice any abnormalities, contact your healthcare provider to investigate further. Abnormalities include:
Change in how the breast or nipple feels
Change in breast or nipple appearance
Nipple discharge, clear or bloody
For more specific signs and symptoms check out:
Should you notice symptoms, most often it’s not due to cancer. However, it is a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider just to play it safe. On the other hand, just because you may seem symptom-free, it doesn’t automatically mean you don’t need regular screenings.
“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.” – National Breast Cancer Foundation
For more information on self- exams check out: