Cancer is not just one disease but rather a group of diseases. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women (after skin cancer) and one out of eight women will develop this disease. Since this disease is so common and affects so many women, every woman should be well informed on the subject of breast cancer including detection, treatment, and different ways to fight breast cancer. All forms of cancer cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control. Most types of cancer cells form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cells from the tumor can break away and travel to other parts of the body.
There the cancerous cells can continue to grow. This spreading process is called metastasis. When cancer spreads, it is still named after the part of the body where it started. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the lungs, it is still breast cancer, not lung cancer.
Another word for cancerous is malignant. Therefore, a cancerous tumor is called malignant. However, not all tumors are cancer. A tumor that is not cancer is called benign. Benign tumors do not grow and spread in the same manner cancer does and the tumors are usually not a threat to life. A few cancers, such as blood cancers (leukemia), do not form a tumor.
Breast cancer begins in the breast tissue. Men may also develop breast cancer, although this is rare. (Women. com, pp. 6) Inside the breasts are glands that produce and release milk after a woman has a baby. The glands that make the milk are called lobules and the tubes connecting the lobules to the nipple are called ducts.
The breast itself is made up of lobules, ducts, and fatty, connective, and lymphatic tissue. There are several types of breast tumors. Most are benign; that is, they are not cancerous. These lumps are often caused by fibrocystic changes. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs, and fibrosis refers to connective tissue or scar tissue formation. Fibrocystic changes can cause breast swelling and pain.
The breasts may feel lumpy and sometimes there is a clear or slightly cloudy nipple discharge. Benign breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast and they are not life-threatening. (Lawrence, pp. 54) Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, other than skin cancer. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. Many well accredited doctors predict approximately 184, 200 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the year 2000 among women in this country and roughly 41, 200 deaths from the disease.
Death rates from breast cancer declined significantly during 1992 to 1996, with the largest decrease in younger women -- both white and black. This decline is probably the result of better detection and improved treatment. We do not yet know exactly what causes breast cancer, but we do know that certain risk factors are linked to the disease. A risk factor is something which increases a person's chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, such as smoking, can be controlled.
Others, such as an individual's age or family history, can not be controlled. (Lee, 124) While all women are at risk for breast cancer, the factors listed below can increase an individual's chances of having the disease. Some studies suggest that long-term use (10 years or more) of estrogen replacement therapy, sometimes called hormone replacement therapy (ERT), for relief of menopause symptoms may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. This risk applies only to current and recent users. A woman's breast cancer risk returns to that of the general population within 5 years of stopping ERT. Replacement therapy also lowers the risk of heart attacks and bone fractures; therefore, women should discuss with their doctors the benefits and drawbacks of ERT.
At this time, there is no certain way to prevent breast cancer. For now, the best strategy is to reduce risk factors whenever possible and follow the guidelines for finding breast cancer early. A personal or family history of breast cancer may make genetic testing an option for some women. Approximately 50%-60% of women with certain genetic mutations will develop breast cancer by the age of 70. These women also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Genetic testing can tell if a woman has these mutated genes, however, these tests cannot predict whether or not a woman will get breast cancer.
Genetic testing is expensive and is not covered by some health plans. Women with positive results may be able to get insurance, or coverage might only be available at a much higher cost. One must weigh carefully the benefits and the drawbacks before proceeding with testing. (cancer. com, pp. 11) The drug tamoxifen has been used for many years as a treatment for some breast cancer.
Recent studies show women at high risk for breast cancer are less likely to develop the disease if they take tamoxifen. Another drug, raloxifene, also blocks the effect of estrogen on breast tissue. Some studies seem to show this drug lowers the risk of breast cancer, however, raloxifene has not yet been approved for this use. In some rare cases, women at very high risk might consider a preventive (prophylactic) mastectomy. This is an operation in which one or both breasts are removed before there is any known breast cancer.
The reasons for considering this type of surgery need to be very strong. They would include one or more of the following: inherited mutated genes, an earlier breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, and diagnosis of certain conditions such as locular carcinoma. While the operation reduces the risk of breast cancer, this procedure does not guarantee cancer will not develop in the small amount of breast tissue remaining after the operation. The earlier breast cancer is found, the better the chances for successful treatment. Because early breast cancer does not produce symptoms, it is important for all women to follow the guidelines for finding breast cancer early. A mammogram and a breast exam by a doctor or nurse (a clinical breast examination) should be performed every year for women over the age of forty.
Between the ages of 20 and 39, women should have a clinical breast exam every 3 years. All women over 20 should do breast self- examination (BSE) every month. Together, these methods offer the best chance of finding breast cancer early. [Vacan, pp.
37] Breast cancer is a serious form of cancer which can be treated if caught in the early stages, which is reason enough for all women to be well informed on the subject of breast cancer, including how detect, treat and fight this disease. Bibliography Cancer. com. Cancer Facts. New York: World Wide Web, 1994: 1-16 Feigenbeum, Lawrence H. Women in the 90's.
Dallas: Jovanovic h, 1999 Lee, Susan A. Women Dealing With Breast Cancer. California: Harcourt, 1962 Vacan, Juice. Cancer in Women Today. New York: Teen People, 2000: 25-37 Women. com.
Women on the Web. Florida: World Wide Web, 1998: 6-9.