Breast Cancer Awareness
The female breast is an organ like no other. Its primary purpose is the production of milk. (While the male breast has a similar structure to that of a female, it lacks the hormones necessary for breast growth and milk production.) The female breast is a network of 12 – 20 sections called lobes. Each lobe is made up of smaller lobules, the gland that produces milk. The milk travels from the lobules and lobes, through the milk ducts, and out through the nipple. Surrounding this network is fat, fibrous connective tissue (provides support), nerves, blood vessels, and lymph tissue.
The lymph system is made up of a network of vessels, similar to blood vessels, that are connected to clusters of lymph nodes. This system can be found throughout our body. Its function is to:
· Filter, absorb, and remove damaged cells, such as cancer cells
· Carry oxygen and other nutrients to the cells
· Fight infection and destroy damaged cells with white blood cells
Cancer can start any place in the body. Our body’s cells are the building blocks of tissues and organs, and are programmed to do certain jobs. Normal cells divide in an orderly way. They die when they are old or damaged, and new cells take their place. Breast cancer (and cancer, in general) is caused by damage to the cell's DNA - the brain of the cell - which controls the way it functions, especially how it grows and divides. As long as there are very few abnormal cells and they are kept under control by our immune (lymph) system, they will not harm us. It is only when these cells start to divide uncontrollably that cancer occurs.
Certain DNA changes are passed on from parents (inherited) and can greatly increase your risk for breast cancer. Other lifestyle-related risk factors can increase your chance of developing breast cancer, but it’s not yet known exactly how some of these risk factors cause normal cells to become cancer. (see below)
Lymph system infiltration happens when breast cancer cells break into the blood vessels or lymph network. When this happens, it increases the risk of the cancer traveling outside the breast or coming back in the future. The lymph nodes in the underarm are the first place breast cancer is likely to spread. This spread of cancer to a new part of the body is called metastasis.
The main factors that influence your risk of getting breast cancer include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older. Other risk factors include:
· Women who start their periods before age 12 are exposed to hormones longer, raising the risk for breast cancer by a small amount
· Having the first pregnancy after age 30 and never having a full-term pregnancy
· Starting menopause after age 55. Like starting one’s period early, being exposed to estrogen hormones for a longer time later in life also raises the risk of breast cancer
· Not being physically active
· Being overweight or obese after menopause
· Having dense breasts. (Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue)
· Using combination hormone therapy (estrogen and progesterone) for menopause
· Taking birth control pills
· Personal history of breast cancer
· Family history of breast cancer
· Previous treatment using radiation therapy
· Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES; given to some pregnant women in the U.S. between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage)
· Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks
Breast Cancer Symptoms include:
· New lump in the breast or armpit
· Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
· Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
· Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
· Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
· Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
· Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
· Pain in any area of the breast
Breast Cancer screening helps to identify breast cancer before there are symptoms. Screening methods include self-breast exams, clinical breast exams (performed by a medical professional), and mammography.
There are 2 trains of thought when it comes to Breast Cancer screening:
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/breast-cancer-screening1
The decision when to have a mammogram is between you and your provider. Many factors will be considered, such as your personal health history, your risk factors, and the health history of your family members. Early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography means that treatment can be started earlier in the course of the disease, possibly before it has spread.
Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help you notice symptoms that may be of concern. You should report any breast changes to your healthcare provider without delay.