Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of the disease.
There are over 1.38 million new cases and 458,000 deaths from breast cancer each year.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide.
Organized by major breast cancer charities every October is observed to raise awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
What causes Breast Cancer?
The exact cause of breast cancer — that is, what causes breast cells to start to grow out of control — is not known. The combination of a person’s genes and their environment likely plays a role in the development of the disease.
In about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases, genetic mutations are linked to the disease. For example, women with mutations in the BRCA genes are at increased risk for breast cancer. Some studies show that women with mutations in the BRCA1 gene have a 50 percent to 70 percent chance of getting breast cancer by age 70, and women with mutations in the BRCA2 gene have a 40 percent to 60 percent chance.
Other risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, starting menstrual periods before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55, not having children, having dense breast tissue, and using hormone therapy after menopause. However, most women who get breast cancer don’t have any risk factors for the disease, other than their gender and age.
Not everyone with breast cancer will have symptoms before they are diagnosed.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer include:
- A lump in the breast or armpit
- A thickening or swelling of the breast
- Dimpling of the breast or skin irritation
- Red or flaky skin in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
It’s important to note that even these symptoms don’t necessarily mean a malignancy is present and often signal a benign condition, such as a cyst or infection.
When to Start Screening
However, exactly when women should start to get mammograms, and how frequently they should get them, has been debated. For example, the American Cancer Society recommends that women get their first mammogram starting at age 40, and get them every year after.
Some studies suggest a benefit to regular mammogram screening.
A 2013 study of breast cancer patients, women who died of the disease, most had not undergone regular breast cancer screening. However, some researchers criticized the study because it did not look at screening rates among women who survived breast cancer.
If a screening method reveals possible breast cancer, follow-up tests are done to confirm the diagnosis.
- Imaging tests such as mammograms, MRI scans or breast ultrasound. Each of these methods produces internal pictures of the breast that help doctors see a potential mass.
- Biopsies, which take cells from suspicious lumps to study in a pathology lab to determine if they are malignant. Cells are extracted through special needles or during surgery.
If cancer is confirmed, doctors will perform additional tests to determine whether the cancer has spread within the breast, to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body. A patient will likely see several doctors for her treatment, including surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists.
Here are some reference links