Breast cancer is a type of cancer that grows from breast cells and is the most common invasive cancer among females globally. Breast cancer also affects men though not as commonly as women. It accounts for up to 20% of all cancer deaths worldwide. The breast cancer rate is higher in developed countries as opposed to underdeveloped countries and experts believe this is attributed to the high life expectancy in developed countries and the tremendous difference in lifestyle and eating habits.
Experts are not entirely certain what causes breast cancer. It is also hard to tell why one person develops the disease whereas another doesn’t, but some risk factors can bring about a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. These are:
- Growing older – age is one of the major risk factors. Growing older, for a woman, increases her odds of developing breast cancer. More than 80% of all female breast cancer cases occur at the age of 50 and above.
- Genetics – if one has a close relative who developed breast or ovarian cancer, they too may develop breast cancer. On the other hand, if two family members develop the disease, it doesn’t quite mean they share the genes that make them more susceptible since breast cancer is a common type of cancer, and majorities are not hereditary.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes may be inherited, and women carrying these genes are likely to develop breast cancer. Other known possible causes include post-menopausal obesity, dense breast tissue, history of breast cancer, estrogen exposure (when one begins to experience periods), high alcohol consumption, exposure to radiations such as X-rays, and cosmetic breast implants.
Effects of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer frequently starts in the interior lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. A malignant tumor can spread to the remaining parts of the body. A breast cancer that develops in the lobules is referred to as lobular carcinoma while one that starts off from the ducts is known as ductal carcinoma.
Some of the initial effects of breast cancer are masses and localized lumps within the breast. The lumps may feel firmer, painful and immobile. Since the tumors grow without aid from the connective tissue, they may result in changes on the breast’s surface. The tumors disrupt the ducts leading to the nipple resulting in a discharge from the nipples. Again, breast cancer can spread to other tissues such as the liver, the bones, and the lungs – a condition known as metastasis. Dysfunction of the lungs causes troubled breathing and pneumonia, problems with the liver resulting in issues with blood clotting and jaundice while bone problems lead to easy fracturing.
Treatment of breast cancer involves several stages and includes a multidisciplinary team ranging from a surgeon, radiologist, a dietitian, to a psychologist. Determining the best treatment for the patient, again, depends on the type of breast cancer (whether invasive or non-invasive), the stage of cancer, the patient’s general health and age, and whether the cancer cells are sensitive to hormones or not.
The main treatment options include:
- Surgery – which may involve removing only the affected tumor, or surgically removing the breast.
- Radiation therapy – controlled levels of radiation are directed at the tumor to destroy the cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy – medication known as cytotoxic drugs are prescribed.
- Hormone therapy – used mostly after surgery for cancers that are sensitive to hormones to prevent cancer recurrence.
- Biological treatment – a monoclonal antibody that targets and destroys cancer cells.
Outcomes and Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
There are many side effects linked to cancer treatment. The most frequent ones are sudden weight loss, hair loss, vomiting, nausea, fatigue, a higher susceptibility to infections, and sore mouth.