The latest data from National Cancer Institute revealed that about 232,340 female and about 2,240 male are diagnosed with breast cancer in the USA annually and death counts reaches up to 40,000 each year. The numbers are stunning, but the good news is that this cancer will be fading away soon as researchers work hard to find their way through. In fact, breast cancer incidence is still higher in developed countries like the USA in contrast to developing countries in Asia and Africa. This is attributed to the difference in lifestyle and life expectancy between different regions.
Breast cancer develops as a consequence of exposure to different risk factors. Age and gender is already an established risk factor for this cancer. Females that are 40 years old or older have higher risk of developing it compared to males. Family history is also a key risk factor. Studies have shown that females have 4 times higher risk of developing breast cancer in the presence of first degree relatives with the disease, and five times higher if there are at least three members of the family who have this disease. Moreover, a history of ovarian cancer in the family is also associated to increase risk of acquiring breast cancer. Lifestyle related factors such as obesity, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are also risk factors. Other risk factors that are important to mention are getting pregnant at a later age, not being able to bear a child, and an early onset of menses and late age of menopause. These are all hormone-related risk factors proven to contribute to increased risk of exposing to this disease.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer aren’t specific, but are obvious and they could show in variety of ways. Typically, alterations of the normal breast size, shape and color are the earliest signs and these could include a presence of a lump in one or both breasts, a rash around the nipples, nipples become inverted and may have abnormal discharges such as blood. There are also probabilities that a patient could feel pain on the breast or on the armpits. Observing any of these signs and symptoms warrant a checkup to a doctor for a more detailed examination of the breast.
Diagnosis of breast cancer is pretty straightforward. It can be suspected if the patient presents with the signs and symptoms mentioned above and those symptoms could be confirmed by an imaging study such as breast ultra-sonography or mammography. A breast mass biopsy is also needed to find out whether the mass or masses are benign or malignant in nature. Results of these studies will determine the appropriate management of breast cancer.
Surgery is still the mainstay of management of breast cancer especially those who have been diagnosed early. It has been proven to cure this cancer without the need of adjuvant treatment. Adjuvant treatment such as radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy are usually reserved to those cases that are too late to be managed by surgery alone.
There is a steady decrease in mortality rates of breast cancer over the last two decades primarily because of the advancement in medical and surgical technology as well increased awareness of those individuals at risk for developing the said disease. However, this is not uniform in all parts of the world. Developing countries still struggle to get enough support from the government to push forward programs that increase awareness about this disease. There’s still a lot need to be done to conquer the fight against breast cancer as well as other types of cancer.