Breast cancer, despite all medical and technological advances, as been on the rise in the last 50 years or so. The figures that stare us in the face when we check the records are quite alarming. But, there is no running away from these figures, they are real.
It’s alarming but it is true that there’s more breast cancer now than ever before. It is true that between 1979 and 1986 the incidence of invasive breast cancer in the United States alone has increased 29 percent among white women and 41 percent among black women, and incidences of all breast cancers doubled. It’s true that despite yearly mammograms and advanced medical and diagnostic technology the percentage of women dying from breast cancer has remained virtually unchanged over the past 50 years, and that every 12 minutes throughout the last half of the 20th Century another woman died of breast cancer.
It is also fact that more than two hundred thousand cases of breast cancer are diagnosed every year in the United States. In Canada about twenty thousand new cases, thirteen thousand in Australia and over forty one thousand in the UK. And it’s true that breast cancer is the disease that women fear more than any other, that breast cancer is the biggest killer of all women aged 35 to 54, and that of the 2.5 million women currently diagnosed with breast cancer, half will be dead within ten years.
It really does not matter if you are 20 years old or 50 years old. You stand some risk of catching the monster. It is estimated that one in every nine women will get breast cancer at some period in her life.
Almost every woman is at risk of breast cancer, but records show that 80% of cases are found in woman over 50 years of age. There are several factors that can predispose one to breast cancer. Some are within your control and others are not. It therefore makes much sense to avoid the humanly controllable factors as much as possible. Most of these are the daily lifestyle choices we make. The problem is that these habits do not show the extent of damage they can cause to our body until we begin to get older, and by then the damage is done already.
Factors associated with breast cancer include:
- Taking an oral contraceptive pill
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Obesity and/or high fat diets
- Family history of breast cancer
It is worth stating here, however, that most breast cancers are hormonally related Other factors may also affecting the risk, include stress, carcinogens, excessive use of stimulants like alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes and exposure to pesticides and radiation.
Early detection of breast cancer is still the best guarantee of getting cured. Presently, six out of every seven patients diagnosed with breast cancer are cured at an early stage. However, if they are diagnosed when the cancer has become advanced, the cure rate falls to about one in seven. It is extremely important to catch breast cancer at an early stage if it is to be satisfactorily cured. This therefore makes knowing the symptoms very crucial.
Breast cancer, in its early stages hardly shows any sign at all. It does not cause any pain in most instances. Some of the symptoms associated with breast cancer include:
- Itching in the armpit or around the breast region
- Pink, red, or dark colored area (called erythematic) with texture similar to the skin of an orange
- Ridges and thickened areas of the skin of nipple or breast
- Appearance of a bruise that does not go away
- Nipple getting inverted
- Breast warm to the touch
- Pain in the breast which could vary from a constant ache to stabbing pains
- Change in texture as well as color of the skin around the nipple
- Change in the shape or size of a breast
- Dimpling of the breast skin
- Swelling or a lump in the armpit
- Discharge from the nipple
None of these symptoms is clear evidence of breast cancer, as most of the signs may also arise due to other conditions affecting the breast. Only a doctor can made a definite statement about the presence or otherwise of breast cancer after an exhaustive examination.
Local Regional Treatment. This is actually treatment of the lymph nodes in the area surrounding the breast as well as the breast itself. If metastatic disease is present then the treatment is given to specific areas.
- One of these methods is radiation therapy or radiotherapy. Much to womens’ surprise there are very few side effects from this therapy and they are restricted to the area being treated. Radiotherapy is an effective way to destroy the cancer cells and provide the best chance that the cancer will not come back.
- Another method of this type of treatment is surgery which is usually the last recourse when all other methods have failed. With surgery in many cases reconstruction is needed afterwards as often part or all of the breast needs to be removed, which is called having a mastectomy. However, even this radical a surgery is not as drastic as it was years ago. Today every attempt is made to preserve as much of the healthy breast as possible.
Systemic Treatments. This is where the whole body is treated as a system.
- The most common systemic treatment is chemotherapy. The purpose of chemotherapy is to get rid of any cancer cells that may have spread from the breast to other areas of the body. The reason chemotherapy works and also the reason it is so hard on your body is because it attacks the rapidly dividing cancer cells in your body. Unfortunately cancer cells are not the only cells in your body that divide, thus the reason that chemotherapy can have such a sickening effect on a person. Still, chemotherapy is not as hard to go through today as it was years ago and is an important insurance policy against the spread of the disease, especially to the lymph nodes, which in many cases is fatal.
- Another treatment that isn’t as common is tamoxifen, which is a very powerful drug. This drug reduces the risk of breast cancer returning after surgery and even reduces the risk of a woman ever getting breast cancer. However the side effects, though not fatal, can be very serious and uncomfortable. They include blood clots and uterine cancer, hot flushes, early menopause, problems with fertility, nausea and vomiting, weight gain, mood swings, depression and loss of energy.
Alternative and Holistic Treatments. These are treatments where the body, mind and spirit are all treated. Unfortunately there is very little medical evidence to show that these treatments are effective.
- Some of these alternative methods include acupuncture, meditation, relaxation techniques, and the use of flaxseed and black cohosh. Flaxseed supposedly reduces the growth and spread of breast cancer. Black cohosh is supposed to stop the hot flushes associated with those who have breast cancer. Again, there is nothing to support either of these claims.
Years ago breast cancer was pretty much a death sentence. Today with the effective and relatively safe treatments that have been developed a woman can not only survive breast cancer but also have a normal healthy life afterwards.