Knowing about Cancer Can Save Your Health and Your Life
October 1, 2010 by Karen In Category Breast Cancer
Early detection of breast cancer is vital for successful treatment and recovery, so it is wise to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.
Although survival rates have improved dramatically over the last three decades, breast cancer remains the second biggest killer of women between the ages of 35 and 54. More than forty thousand US women die of this disease in a single year.
Are You Susceptible to Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer can occur at any time post-puberty. However, it is much more common in the over 50s. Of course, men also develop breast cancer, but this is relatively rare (causing 450 deaths in 2008).
As with many medical conditions, you are more likely to develop breast cancer if there is a family history of the disease, particularly from a first-degree relative, such as a mother or sister.
It is thought that many other factors may increase susceptibility, these include:
- Long menstrual cycles
- Early onset menstruation and/or late menopause
- Pregnancy after the age of 30
- Pregnancy before the age of 20
- No pregnancies
- Exposure to radiation
- Native American or Asian ancestry
Breast Cancer Development
Cancer tends to appear more commonly in the left breast and usually affects the outer part of the breast near the armpit. The growth rate is estimated by the ‘doubling time’, which is, as the name suggests, the time it takes malignant (cancerous) cells to double.
The biggest danger to breast cancer sufferers is that the malignant cells spread. Breast cancer affects the lymphatic system and is transported through the body in the blood, which allows the cancer cells to flow through the right side of the heart to the lungs and spread to the other breast. If untreated, the cancer may spread even further, affecting the chest wall, liver, bones and brain.
A patient’s survival prospects are estimated according to the tumor size, speed of growth and/or spread and the number of lymph nodes that contain malignant cells.
Once diagnosed, breast cancer is classified by examining the shape of the cells and location of the lesion. This classification is used in conjunction with a ‘staging system’ or nodal staging, the most commonly used of which is known as TNM (tumor size, nodal involvement and metastatic progress).
Detection of Breast Cancer
There are, of course, a number of signs and symptoms to look for in the detection of breast cancer, these include:
- A lump or lumpiness in one breast
- Breast pain
- Lump around the underarm area or collarbone
- Rash or flaky skin around the nipple
- Change in the size of the breast
- Discharge from the nipple
To ensure early detection, self examination should be performed once a month, but you should ensure that it is around the same time each month, as the breasts will naturally alter slightly according to your menstrual cycle. Yearly or bi-yearly mammography is also recommended, particularly if you have a family history of breast cancer.
If you are concerned about any change in your breasts, seek advice from your doctor as soon as possible.
Even if you are anxious and afraid, don’t put off going to your doctor. Often, it’s a lot easier to open up to other women. This is the time to call on your girl friends for support. They will remind you, the only way to deal with a problem is to face it and take action.