Breast Cancer Awareness Month is about more than awareness of the disease. It needs to be a catalyst for removing barriers to care for the people it affects. It should also be about removing the disparities that exist across races, genders, and ethnicities. It is should also be a time to remind people that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
According to breastcancer.org, more than 280,000 women and men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 42,000 are expected to die from breast cancer in the United States alone.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease where the cells in the breast tissue grow abnormally. As they grow, they can form a mass or a lump, called a tumor. Some of these tumors that form in the breast are malignant, or cancerous. The cells of these tumors can spread into the surrounding breast tissue, becoming invasive breast cancer. Along with the ability to spread within the breast comes the ability of these cells to break away from that tumor in the breast and spread to other organs of the body. This is called metastatic breast cancer.
How do you get it?
No one really knows why breast cancer develops in a certain person and not others. According to The National Cancer Institute, it is now known that breast cancer develops as a result of a gene mutation. Some gene mutations are inherited from our parents and these account for about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer in the United States. But 90 to 95 percent of breast cancers occur as a result of a gene mutation within the body. A harmful variant in BRCA1 or BRCA2 can be inherited from either parent. Each child of a parent who carries a mutation in one of these genes has a 50% chance of inheriting the mutation. We don’t know what causes these mutations, only that they exist.
Why should someone with no history care about breast cancer?
We know there are certain factors that increase our chance of getting breast cancer, such as having an inherited gene mutation, or being overweight as an adult, or taking menopausal hormones. But not everyone with an inherited mutation or is overweight or takes menopausal hormones gets breast cancer. In fact, most don’t. We know the two most common risks for breast cancer are being female and getting older. But some men get breast cancer and some young women get breast cancer, too. So, what it boils down to is everyone is at risk of developing breast cancer – even people who are healthy, eat right, exercise, are an ideal weight, and have no family history of the disease. And, with more than 279,000 women and men in the United States expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, alone, chances are you know someone who will be affected by breast cancer.
Who’s at risk for developing breast cancer?
Some people – especially women – face an increased risk for developing breast cancer. While some risk factors cannot be changed, such as your age, others can be managed in order to lower your risk. Here are a few, but not all, of the risk factors associated with breast cancer:
- Age – Incidence rates are higher for women over 50, however, adults of any age can develop breast cancer. Regular mammograms are recommended for women ages 40 and older.
- Family History – Some cases of breast cancer are caused by inherited genetic mutations. If breast cancer runs in your immediate family, you may be more at risk.
- Birth Control – Research reveals that taking birth control pills can cause an elevated risk of developing breast cancer.
- Hormone Therapy – Some post-menopause hormone therapies seem to increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.
- Diet and Exercise – Obesity and lack of exercise have both been linked to elevated breast cancer risk.
- Alcohol – Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day has been directly linked to breast cancer risk in women.
How is breast cancer treated?
According to Healthline.com, There are five treatment types for breast cancer;
- Radiation Therapy
- Hormone Therapy
- Targeted Drug Treatment
Since no two patients are alike and cancer types can differ, each patients should discuss the risks and benefits of breast cancer treatments. You, your physician, and family can and should make an informed decision about the best option for you.
In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have curated some additional online resources for further reading:
The information in the above article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.