This October, Germania Insurance continues our participation in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to Breastcancer.org, there will be an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in 2019. While researchers toil away at a cure, it is up to us to spread as much information as possible to as many people as possible. Help us raise awareness by equipping yourself with the facts. Share what you learn and together, we can save lives.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease that disproportionately affects women. The most common types of breast cancer develop in either the lobules, which are the glands that produce milk, or the ducts that deliver it. It can, however, develop in the surrounding fatty tissue as well. In later stages, the cancer cells can spread to surrounding tissue, eventually making their way into the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer for American women. It is estimated that there will be 41,760 deaths at the end of 2019 from breast cancer. Despite this, survival rates are incredibly high when detected early. For stage 0-1, there is almost a 100% 5-year survival rate. The later it’s detected, the lower that number becomes. That’s why spreading the word and encouraging regular checkups is so important.
There are many factors that can all contribute to a person’s chance of getting breast cancer. It is usually a confluence of various factors rather than a single one that causes cancer to develop. Of these factors, the two largest predictors are being a woman and age. The most common age group for women to be diagnosed with breast cancer is between 55 and 64.
Scientists know that there is a certain genetic mutation that makes breast cancer more likely can be passed down from generation to generation. However, just because you have a family history of breast cancer does not mean you are guaranteed to get it. These things simply increase the likelihood of developing the disease at some point in your life.
As with most things, being unhealthy greatly contributes to your chances of developing cancer. Poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and obesity have all been shown to increase the likelihood of breast cancer.
Having children after 35, not breastfeeding, and/or never having had a full-term pregnancy have all been shown to increase risk in some form or another. Women who have had breast cancer in the past or have undergone radiation therapy are also at a higher risk.
In the very early stages of breast cancer, lumps or tumors may be too small to be found by a basic examination. This is why mammograms are so important to have on a regular basis. However, it is still important to know how to check for the warning signs.
Because there are many types of breast cancer, symptoms can vary. The following are some of the more common symptoms:
- thick lumpy masses
- irregular skin
- lumps/swelling under your arm
- scaley, flakey or peeling skin
Having one of these symptoms does not automatically mean you have breast cancer. There are numerous other causes that can bring about some of these conditions. If you’ve found any of these symptoms, it’s always best to consult a physician to determine the cause.
Breast Cancer Prevention
While some of the leading causes of cancer are beyond your control, there are measures you can take to lower your risk.
It may come as no surprise that a healthy diet and exercise can help you prevent breast cancer as well as many other health concerns. Obesity is associated with a higher risk for breast cancer as well as a host of other health problems. Because the research shows excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of breast cancer, being healthy also means watching and limiting your alcohol intake.
Go to the doctor for regular checkups. Even if you feel healthy, it takes the expertise of an experienced physician to truly make that call. Younger women usually don’t need to be screened as often, but your doctor can help you develop a specific schedule.
Even if you’re doing all you can to lead a healthy lifestyle, it is still a good idea to have regular checks. Like most cancers, the earlier you detect it, the more options for treatment you have and the better your chances of success. Fortunately, medical science has provided us with several solid methods of detecting breast cancer before it spreads or grows beyond a manageable point.
Self-Exam. This is the most basic method of early detection. While it is by no means a highly accurate or exhaustive way to check for breast cancer, there is no downside to the occasional self-check.
Exams/Checkups. Sometimes all that is required to detect a potentially malignant growth is a simple breast exam by your doctor. During a normal medical exam, your doctor can potentially spot lumps or abnormal skin conditions that could point to breast cancer development. Usually, this is only the first step in a series of tests, but it is an important one.
Ultrasounds. If you’ve had a child before, you’re probably familiar with this method. An ultrasound is a device that uses sound to create images of the interior of your body. An ultrasound may be used to determine whether or not lumps in the affected area are solid and potentially cancerous, or something else like a fluid-filled cyst.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Unlike an X-ray, an MRI doesn’t use radiation to create its image. A dye is injected into the breast and magnets are used to create a detailed image of the area in question.
Mammograms. A mammogram is one of the more common methods used to detect breast cancer. Unlike some of the other detection methods, this technology can actually be mobile. There are a number of programs that have portable teams who travel to communities and perform exams. They use X-rays to image the interior of the breast and look for abnormalities. If something is found, they may recommend further tests like a biopsy.
Biopsy. A biopsy is the only way to be positive a growth is cancerous. It involves taking a small tissue sample from the area in question using a special needle. The sample is then typically sent off to a lab where tests are run to determine whether or not it is cancer.
Genetic testing. While genetics can’t predict your biological future, they can be a strong indicator of your overall risk for developing breast cancer. The mutation of certain genes, like BRCA1 and BRCA2, are known to increase an individual’s risk. Unfortunately, these mutations can be passed down from generation to generation. However, a genetic test can help you determine how likely you are to develop cancer and gives you the foresight needed to take further action. If someone in your family has had breast cancer, it might be a good idea to consider genetic testing.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, there are a variety of treatment options available. Depending on the stage of cancer, a doctor may recommend one or several of these methods to fight back.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a process that uses special drugs to kill off cancer cells. These drugs don’t just target cancer cells, however, and it often has serious unwanted side effects. It can be used to prepare a patient for surgery as it often reduces the number of cancer cells in the body and potentially shrinks any tumors.
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy involves using highly focused beams of radiation to target and shrink cancer cells. Like chemotherapy, healthy cells are often destroyed in the process.
Surgery. Surgery is often required to eliminate breast cancer, but the amount of tissue removed depends on the type and stage of cancer. The doctor may remove only a small part, such as the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue or perhaps surrounding lymph nodes. In order to fully rid the body of affected tissue, it may be necessary to perform a mastectomy, which is the process of surgically removing the entire breast.
Hormone replacement therapy. Because some forms of breast cancer are caused by hormonal imbalances, sometimes hormone therapy can be used to slow the affected cancer cells and potentially stop them altogether.
These are some of the more common treatment options, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. New developments and treatments are being created and studied all the time. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor will work with you to figure out a treatment plan that is right for you.
These are the facts, statistics, and figures. But breast cancer victims and survivors are more than statistics. They are our mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. They are our family members, our coworkers, and our friends. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, do your part by talking to the women in your life and helping them find the resources they need to get checkups and information. We’ve made great strides towards raising awareness and developing detection and treatment options for breast cancer in recent years, but the battle isn’t over. Help Germania in our commitment to the cure and perhaps one day we can all celebrate as the last case of breast cancer is treated.