Thanks to many public awareness campaigns, breast cancer is one of the best known and best understood forms of cancer. This is fortunate, because breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in women. Luckily, with regular self breast exams and visits to a gynecologist, breast cancer is one deadly illness that can be detected early. And, if it is detected early, it can likely be beaten. Thanks to organizations such as the Susan B. Komen Foundation, and events such as Breast Cancer Walks, breast cancer is now a disease that can be openly talked about and fought. Read on for more information about the specifics of breast cancer.
Medically, breast cancer is just what it sounds like – an invasive cancer that appears in the breast. Men and women, who both have breasts, can get breast cancer, though breast cancer is 100 times more common in women. Breast cancer generally begins within in the inner lining of the milk ducts or lobules within in the breast. Just as with most types of cancer, there are different types of breast cancer. These different types of cancer go through different stages and also exhibit varying amounts of aggressiveness. Breast cancer can be genetic, it can be caused by environmental factors, or it can be caused by other means. Breast cancer is generally treated by anything from surgery (i.e. to remove the cancer within the breasts, this sometimes results in a procedure called a mastectomy – the removal of the breast) to drugs, to chemotherapy to radiation.
Breast cancer is a deadly form of cancer. In 2004, in the United States alone, there were 216,000 cases of invasive breast cancer. Forty thousand of these cases resulted in death. Breast cancer is also very common, being the second most common cancer in the entire world next to lung cancer. Luckily though, with the best types of treatment, breast cancer survivor numbers can be as large as 98% over 10 years. Unfortunately, those numbers can also be as low as 10% over ten years. And, in 2004, breast cancer was the cause of almost 1% of all deaths worldwide. To put that in perspective, 1 in 100 deaths in the world in 2004 were as a result of breast cancer.
So how do you know if you may be suffering from breast cancer? The initial symptom of breast cancer is a lump in the breast. This lump may feel like a group of fibers or a knot and it will stand out because it feels different than the rest of the breast tissue. These lumps can also be found in the arm pits. For women, performing monthly breast self-exams are very important because 80% of breast cancer cases are first diagnosed when a woman feels a lump in her own breast. When physicians find lumps, if they don’t find them by performing a breast exam, they will find it via a test called a mammogram.
That is not to say that all breast cancer manifests itself as a lump in the breast. Breast cancer can also manifest as changes in breast size or shape, skin dimpling, nipple inversion, or spontaneous single-nipple discharge.
Breast cancer has many causes, but some primary risk factors include sex, age, childbearing, hormones, a diet high in fate, drinking alcohol, and obesity. External, or environmental factors for breast cancer include tobacco use and exposure to radiation. Scientists have also discovered two genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2 – that indicate a person is at risk for breast cancer.
If you feel that you may be suffering from breast cancer, see your primary care physician or gynecologist immediately. Early detection and quick treatment can save your life.
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