Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in Kenya and East Africa. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it’s far more common in women. Substantial support for breast cancer awareness and research funding has helped create advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Breast cancer survival rates have increased, and the number of deaths associated with this disease is steadily declining, largely due to factors such as earlier detection, a new personalized approach to treatment and a better understanding of the disease.
Did you know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime? While you can’t prevent cancer, it is important to be proactive about your health. Get the free Healthy Living and Personal Risk Guide to help you protect your overall health and assess your breast cancer risk. CLICK HERE!
When you’re told that you have breast cancer, it’s natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. But no one knows the exact causes of breast cancer. Doctors seldom know why one woman develops breast cancer and another doesn’t, and most women who have breast cancer will never be able to pinpoint an exact cause. What we do know is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to a cell’s DNA. Women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors (such as drinking alcohol) can be avoided. But most risk factors (such as having a family history of breast cancer) can’t be avoided. Having a risk factor does not mean that a woman will get breast cancer. Many women who have risk factors never develop breast cancer.
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
Inflammatory breast cancer
Invasive lobular carcinoma
Male breast cancer
Paget’s disease of the breast
Recurrent breast cancer
Although the precise causes of breast cancer are unclear, we know the main risk factors. Still, most women considered at high risk for breast cancer do not get it, while many with no known risk factors do develop breast cancer. Among the most significant factors are advancing age and a family history of breast cancer. Risk increases for a woman who has certain types of benign breast lumps and increases significantly for a woman who has previously had cancer of the breast or the ovaries. A woman whose mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease, particularly if more than one first-degree relative has been affected. Researchers have identified two genes responsible for some instances of familial breast cancer. These genes are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. About one woman in 200 carries the genes. Having one of them predisposes a woman to breast cancer but does not ensure that she will get it. Generally, women over age 50 are more likely to get breast cancer than younger women, and African-American women are more likely than Caucasians to get breast cancer before menopause. Source!
There are many risk factors that increase the chance of developing breast cancer. Although we know some of these risk factors, we don’t know the cause of breast cancer or how these factors cause the development of a cancer cell. We know that normal breast cells become cancerous because of mutations in the DNA, and although some of these are inherited, most DNA changes related to breast cells are acquired during one’s life. Proto-oncogenes help cells grow. If these cells mutate, they can increase the growth of cells without any control. Such mutations are referred to as oncogenes. Such uncontrolled cell growth can lead to cancer.
What are breast cancer risk factors? How do you get breast cancer?
Some of the breast cancer risk factors can be modified (such as alcohol use) while others cannot be influenced (such as age). It is important to discuss these risks with a health care provider anytime new therapies are started (for example, postmenopausal hormone therapy).
Several risk factors are inconclusive (such as deodorants), while in other areas, the risk is being even more clearly defined (such as alcohol use).
The following are risk factors for breast cancer:
- Age: The chances of breast cancer increase as one gets older.
- Family history: The risk of breast cancer is higher among women who have relatives with the disease. Having a close relative with the disease (sister, mother, daughter) doubles a woman’s risk.
- Personal history: Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast increases the risk of cancer in the other breast or the chance of additional cancer in the original breast.
- Women diagnosed with certain benign breast conditions have an increased risk of breast cancer. These include atypical hyperplasia, a condition in which there is an abnormal proliferation of breast cells but no cancer has developed.
- Menstruation: Women who started their menstrual cycle at a younger age (before 12) or went through menopause later (after 55) have a slightly increased risk.
- Breast tissue: Women with dense breast tissue (as documented by mammogram) have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Race: White women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, but African-American women tend to have more aggressive tumors when they do develop breast cancer.
- Exposure to previous chest radiation or use of diethylstilbestrol increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Having no children or the first child after age 30 increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Breastfeeding for one and a half to two years might slightly lower the risk of breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer both in pre- and postmenopausal women but at different rates.
- Use of oral contraceptives in the last 10 years increases the risk of breast cancer slightly.
- Using combined hormone therapy after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol use increases the risk of breast cancer, and this seems to be proportional to the amount of alcohol used. A recent study reviewing the research on alcohol use and breast cancer concluded that all levels of alcohol use are associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. This includes even light drinking.
- Exercise seems to lower the risk of breast cancer.
- Genetic risk factors: The most common causes are mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (breast cancer and ovarian cancer genes). Inheriting a mutated gene from a parent means that one has a significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer. SEE MORE!
In its early stages, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. In many cases, a tumor may be too small to be felt, but an abnormality can still be seen on a mammogram. If a tumor can be felt, the first sign is usually a new lump in the breast that was not there before. However, not all lumps are cancer.
Each type of breast cancer can cause a variety of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are similar, but some can be different. Symptoms for the most common breast cancers include:
- a breast lump or tissue thickening that feels different than surrounding tissue and has developed recently
- breast pain
- red, pitted skin over your entire breast
- swelling in all or part of your breast
- a nipple discharge other than breast milk
- bloody discharge from your nipple
- peeling, scaling, or flaking of skin on your nipple or breast
- a sudden, unexplained change in the shape or size of your breast
- inverted nipple
- changes to the appearance of the skin on your breasts
- a lump or swelling under your arm
If you have any of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. For instance, pain in your breast or a breast lump can be caused by a breast cyst. Still, if you find a lump in your breast or have other symptoms, you should see your doctor for further examination and testing.
To determine if your symptoms are caused by breast cancer or a benign breast condition, your doctor will do a thorough physical exam in addition to a breast exam. They may also request one or more diagnostic tests to help understand what’s causing your symptoms.
Tests that can help diagnose breast cancer include:
- Mammogram. Perhaps the best way to see below the surface of your breast is with an imaging test called a mammogram. Many women get annual mammograms to check for breast cancer. If your doctor suspects you may have a tumor or suspicious spot, they will also request a mammogram. If an abnormal area is seen on your mammogram, your doctor may request additional tests.
- Ultrasound. A breast ultrasound creates a picture of the tissues deep in your breast. The ultrasound uses sound waves to do this. An ultrasound can help your doctor distinguish between a solid mass, such as a tumor, and a benign cyst.
Your doctor may also suggest tests such as an MRI or a breast biopsy. Learn More!