Breast Cancer: Risk Factors, Detection & Treatment Among all American women who die when they are between the ages of forty and forty-five, the cause of death most likely to be listed on their death certificates is BREAST CANCER. Breast tumors are responsible for the greatest number of deaths among women, and breast cancer alone is the cause of almost one fifth of all cancer related mortalities. It results in the death of thirty seven thousand American women every year. Currently, there is no concrete answer as to how breast cancer is caused nor is their a cure for the disease. "Research over the past fifty years has narrowed the causes down to certain risk factors that are common amongst breast cancer patients. The disease can be detected somewhat early if one attends examinations.
As for treatment, several methods have come into use, neither of them one hundred percent effective." (Seltzer, 23) "The risk factors for breast cancer have been evaluated solely by researching the medical histories of those with the disease." (Seltzer, 27) They have been assigned a specific order which ranges from greatest risk to the least amount of risk. The risk factors are having a family history of the disease, never bearing children, having a child after the age of thirty, having had a late menopause, age, obesity, and being a Caucasian. These risk factors are not however, totally conclusive. My mother, also being a victim of breast cancer had none of the above listed risk factors, but still developed the sickness. "Even if none of the risk factors applies to you, you must still be wary and attend regular examinations, because every woman is at risk." (Subak-Sharpe, 42) Early detection of breast cancer is the key to surviving the illness. Once the tumor has grown too much, it is often too late.
"Large tumors interact with lymph nodes which interconnect with the breast, facilitating the spreading of the disease, which in almost all cases, leads to certain death." (Link, 144) There are essentially two methods of detection with breast cancer. They are self examinations as well as Mammography's. Self examinations are essentially done by women on themselves, feeling the breast while searching for a lump or abnormalities. It is recommended by the American Cancer Association that a self exam be done every month by all women over the age of twenty. "The self exam causes absolutely no discomfort and should be performed regularly by women due to ease of doing so." (Seltzer, 87) The second form detection of breast cancer is the mammography.
The mammography is quite a process because it involves several steps. The first step is the taking of several X-rays of each breast to search for abnormalities. The second step is the doing an extensive examination of the patients medical history. The patient is then sat down and counseled by the person performing the exam, usually a radiologist.
The only discomfort experienced during a mammography is when the breast is compressed to facilitate better viewing of the tissue by the X-ray machine. "Due to the time and effort as well as the radiation absorbed during the mammography, it is only recommended that they be taken every 3 years after the age of twenty, and annually if over the age of forty." (Seltzer, 133) "Even though both self exams and the use of a mammography is proven to greatly reduce the mortality rate with breast cancer, only a small portion of the women in America partake of it." (Subak-Sharpe, 125) Most women don't because they either fear the pain of discovering the disease, fear the mutilation of their breasts that could follow, or fear losing a breast itself. Despite their life saving characteristics, women insist on saying things such as "Why go looking for trouble?" In the end, they might only be facing death. Treatment methods for breast cancer have progressed greatly over the years. "Back in the late sixties and early seventies, the only treatment for tumors found in the breast we called radical mastectomy's, which means removal of the breast as well as the surrounding pectoral muscle group." (Link, 99) Although it was an effective means to stop breast cancer, it caused detrimental scars to most women's emotional health. It wasn't until decades later when the use of the mastectomy was challenged.
In fact, it is no longer the preferred method of treatment, but used only as a last resort. New treatments such as Radiation treatments as well as chemotherapy have come into existence and are making headway in the fight against breast cancer. Radiation therapy involves physically trying to shrink or destroy the tumor not with invasive surgery, but by directing lethal radiation to the exact location of the tumor. The treatment usually lasts about two minutes. "Even though some patients illnesses prove resistant, the treatment is forty percent effective." (Link, 110) Side effects with Radiation therapy are rare but include rib fracture, radiation induced Pneumonia, and Pericardial effusion (fluid around the heart). These side effects are due to the radiations proximity with the lungs, ribs and heart.
The alternative to Radiation therapy is Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy involves using drugs in the fight against malignant, or deadly tumors. Pharmaceuticals such as Anti metabolites, Alkalating agents, and Antibiotics. These drugs are basically designed to flow through the body's circulatory system, and then search for and destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy has about the same success rate as radiation therapy. In conclusion, breast cancer is one of the most deadly cancers known to women around the world.
Risk factors show who may be prone to developing the sickness, and as time goes by, more detection and treatment methods are developed. Hopefully one day, a cure can be found to eradicate this, and all cancers, but until that day, women will still have to deal with the detection, and treatment of breast cancer.