What is Breast Cancer - a guide to risk factors and features!

Online PhysicianStarred Page By Online Physician, 1st Oct 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>General Health>Women's Health

Breast cancer is the commonest cancer among women. The risk factors for breast cancer and the alarming features of breast cancer are discussed in this article.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer, the cancer of the breast tissue, can occur in any mammal including human and can occur in both females and males though it is seen to occur 100 times more common in females. It accounts for 22.9% of all cancers among women worldwide and results in 13.7% of deaths caused by cancer in women allover the world. In addition, breast cancer is a cause of severe morbidity and decreased quality of life among women. Generally the outcome of the disease is strongly related to the size of the tumour at diagnosis, which means, the earlier is the diagnosis, the better becomes the outcome. Therefore it is important to be aware of the disease and be actively involved in the screening programs in order to detect breast cancer early and through that prevent the complications of the late disease.

Are you at risk of developing breast cancer?

The risk factors for developing breast cancer are as follows:

1. Female Sex
The female sex, as described previously is the most significant risk factor as the occurrence of the disease is 100 times common among females.

2. Family History
Breast cancer risk is also seen to be inherited via genes and the risk is seen to be higher in families with cancers of the breast, ovary, colon and rectum. A patient is said to be at a risk especially if she (or he) has a first degree relative (sibling or parent) who had developed breast cancer at an age below 35 years.

3. Menstrual History
Early menarche (onset of menstruation / puberty) at young age and late menopause (cessation of menstruation at old age) are significant risk factors for breast cancer.

Risk Factors (continued.........)

4. Pregnancy and Breast Feeding
Women who have become pregnant at least once are at a lesser risk compared to those who have never become pregnant. Further, the risk is seen to reduce with the increasing number of pregnancies. In addition, the age at which the first pregnancy has occurred also has an influence on breast cancer, with the pregnancy at an early age becoming more protective than a pregnancy at a later age. Breast feeding the children is also seen to significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer.

5. Past History of Breast Disease and Other Cancers

Although majority of benign (non-cancerous) diseases of the breast are unlikely to give rise to a cancer later in life, some conditions (e.g. – fibrocystic disease of the breast, ductal carcinoma insitu) are a risk for cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer is seen to be higher in those who have had a breast, ovarian or colorectal carcinoma (cancers) before.

Risk Factors (continued.........)

6. Drugs
Oral contraceptive pill (OCP) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are significant risk factors for developing breast cancer.

7. Other Factors

Smoking, high amount of fat in diet, high intake of meat, obesity, alcohol intake and exposure to large doses or cumulative doses of radiation can increase the risk of breast cancer. Psychological stress is also seen to be associated with breast cancer, though the association is not as clear as with other factors.

What are the features of breast cancer - When to suspect?

The commonest way breast cancers present is as a lump of the breast which is the presenting feature in as much as 80% of the cases. The lump is felt as a mass which is different in consistency when compared with the surrounding breast tissue. The size of the lump is also important as the outcome (prognosis) depends on the size of the lump at presentation. Lumps less than 1cm in diameter are said to have a better outcome.

Breast cancer can also present as a discharge from the nipple. The discharge may be serous (colourless fluid), greenish or blood stained. Other presenting features include rapid increase in the size of the breast, sudden change in shape of the breast, inversion of the skin of the breast, pain in the breast and itching and redness of the breast (inflammatory cancer of the breast). Severe, late disease can also present as a discharging ulcer on the breast.

What are the late-symptoms?

Breast cancer can also present after it had metastasized (spread to distant organs). The commonest sites includethe lungs (where there may be a long standing cough with passage of blood with sputum, difficulty and pain in breathing), the spine (which may present as severe back pain which is worse at night with weakness or numbness of the legs occurring later along with urinary and fecal incontinence), the liver (where the eyes will be yellowish in colour along with nausea, loss of appetite and loss of weight) and the brain (with severe headache worsening in the early morning awakening the patient from sleep and relieved after vomiting, accompanied by weakness or numbness of the body and new onset seizures).

However, many of the features of the breast described above(i.e. breast lumps, change in size or shape and discharge) are also seen in benign breast disease and therefore it is important for all individuals with such features to present to a health care facility and get the breasts assessed clinically as well as with investigations.

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Comments

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
1st Oct 2011 (#)

This is very good information on Breast Cancer.

Be sure to read the notes I sent on publication of this, you should be able to resubmit the rejected articles from your rejected pages list, the problem is fixed.

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author avatar Pat Anthony
2nd Oct 2011 (#)

Great tips many will appreciate. Thank you for the details.

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author avatar Denise O
7th Feb 2012 (#)

Great information on breast cancer. Thank you for sharing.:)

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