Statistics show that female breast cancer is the most common cancer in the United States with a rate of 126.8 cases per 100,000 population in 2018. That’s more than twice the rate of the next highest incidence of lung cancer that was 49 per 100,000. The rate of deaths from breast cancer was the second highest at 20 deaths per 100,000 population because of how common it is in people. The American Cancer Society estimates that for 2021:
- There would be about 281,550 new cases of invasive female breast cancer.
- About 43,600 women would die from breast cancer.
Breast cancer mainly occurs in middle-aged and older women. The median age at the time of breast cancer diagnosis is 62. Far fewer women younger than 45 are diagnosed with breast cancer. Overall, women have a 13% chance of developing breast cancer in her life. Her chance of dying from breast cancer is about 2.6%. Fortunately, the rate of breast cancer deaths has remained relatively low for women younger than 50. They have steadily declined for older women. The decline in death rate is believed to be the benefit from more screening and better treatments.
Signs of Breast Cancer and Self Checks
Periodic self-exams are essential. Some of the signs of breast cancer are
- New appearance of a lump that's showing in the armpit or breast.
- Breast tissue that thickens or swells.
- Redness, flaking, dimpling or irritation of breast skin, particularly around the nipple.
- Pain in the nipple area or any breast area.
- Unusual nipple discharge.
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
Self-exams are critical for the early detection of breast cancer. Your chances of recovery from breast cancer are geometrically enhanced with early detection. The earlier the better. The routine procedures for breast self-exam are detailed with photos and diagrams by numerous reliable websites. Here are some of the best:
You should conduct your self-exam regularly and frequently following these published procedures. They should be combined with regular physical exams by your gynecologist, mammography, and perhaps ultrasound or MRI.
Causes of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer forms in the cells of your breast tissue. The primary cause is the abnormally rapid division of certain cells that outpace the division of normal cells. That’s what forms the lumps. Those abnormal cells might spread through your breast to your lymph nodes. Your lymph system provides the vehicle to spread to other parts of your body.
But what causes the abnormal cell division in the first place? It’s not clear why some people have a greater risk of developing cancer than other people. It’s generally believed that breast cancer is caused by a complex combination of genetic makeup and environment.
About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are passed genetically through family generations. Researchers have identified breast cancer genes BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 that increase the risk of breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family your doctor might recommend a blood test that could detect mutations of the BRCA genes.
Numerous measures are recommended to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Among them, it is recommended that you limit the amount of post-menopause hormone therapy. While some women are willing to accept the risk to deal with the adverse effects of menopause. But you are encouraged to use the lowest possible dose of hormone therapy.
Getting Treatment and Support
Hormone therapy is discouraged before you have breast cancer, but once you have it hormone therapy is often a prescribed treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are usually prescribed. Chemotherapy uses drugs that destroy breast cancer cells. They are injected into a vein through a needle or taken by mouth as pills.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays, protons, or other particles to eliminate cancer cells The treatment is selective because cancer cells are more vulnerable to radiation therapy than are normal cells.
Targeted drug therapy uses drugs that attack and selectively eliminate proteins on breast cancer cells that help them grow. They can be given in the vein (IV) or as a pill.
Immunotherapy is used to enhance the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy typically works on the immune system proteins.
Surgery may be required in combination with other therapies. The first likely surgical procedure is more of an examination procedure. Once a lump or mass is detected, a surgeon will aspirate it with a needle to extract cells that are then tested in a lab to determine if they are cancer cells.
After a breast cancer diagnosis, aggressive treatments will be undertaken possibly including surgery for the following objectives.
- Remove as much of the cancer as possible by mastectomy
- Determine by biopsy and dissection if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
- Breast reconstruction.
The best treatment you can have is preventative treatment with vigilant self-exam and regular visits to your gynecologist and regular mammograms. If you are among the rare group who get breast cancer if you caught it early take comfort in the fact that deaths from breast cancer are now very rare. With early detection, there are many very effective treatments and therapies to eradicate the cancer.