By Habila Darofai
Breast cancer is common among females gender with about one in every eight women likely to develop it. In fact the strongest risk factor for the development of breast cancer is being a woman but still about 0.5 to one per cent of breast cancers occur in men.
According to the World Health Organisation, breast cancer is the world’s most prevalent cancer with about 7.8 million women alive having it in the past five years leading to the year 2020.
A breast has three major parts; lobules, ducts and the connective tissue. It is in the lobules that milk is produced and it is the duct that carries milk to the nipple. The connective tissues are the ones that surround and hold firm the structures of the breast. They are made up of fibrous and fatty tissue.
The largest chunks of breast cancers are initiated in the ducts or lobules. According to the World Health Organisation, breast cancer arising from the lining cells of the ducts constitute 85 per cent of breast cancer while 15 per cent others originate from the lobules of the breast.
Most people will first notice breast cancer as an area of the breast with thickened tissue or a lump in the breast or in a nearby armpit. It may also be heralded as a non-cyclical armpit or breast pain or as an area of the skin having an orange skin-like appearance which may be accompanied by skin color changes.
Sometimes, breast cancer may even start as a rash around one or both nipples or as nipples discharge which sometimes is bloody. In some instances, the presage may be an indentation or an inversion of the nipple. A change in the size or shape of the breast or the peeling, flaking or scaling of the skin of the breast or the nipple may all that would betoken the beginning of a breast cancer.
Normally, cells in our bodies divide only when there is a need for a new cell. But cells can sometimes, become delinquent to create a mass of tissue called a tumor. A tumor that contains normal cells is said to be benign and the one that contains abnormal cells and function differently from the body normal cells is called malignant or cancerous.
Cancers are named after the part of the body from which they originate from. So, breast cancer emanates from an uncontrolled division and growth of the breast cells. Just like any other cancer, breast cancer can also invade and extend into surrounding breast tissues and even metastasize into other parts of the body to form new tumors.
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The cause of breast cancer is uncertainly known but being a woman, the age of the woman, genetic factors, family history, personal health history and diet may be contributory to the development of breast cancer. Many risk factors have been associated with the occurrence of breast cancer. Some of these factors such as alcohol consumption, body weight, breast implants, choosing not to breastfeed, using hormone replacement medicines can be controlled.
But other risk factors like being a woman, getting older, having dense breast, early menarche (starting menstruation before age 12) and late menopause (stopping menstruation after age 55), exposure to radiation (especially to the chest), family history of first degree relatives having breast cancer, previous history of breast cancer diagnosis are some of the risk factors of breast cancer that are non-modifiable.
Though there is no certainty that breast cancer can be prevented but its risk can be lowered. It is believed that maintaining healthy habits, like limiting alcohol use, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, breast-feeding, limiting post-menopausal hormone therapy can lower the risk of developing breast cancer.
It is also suggested that regular self-breast examination can help individuals in identifying breast cancer early. But mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. In the United States, it is recommended that women between age 50 to 74 who are at an average risk of having breast cancer should get a mammogram done every two years while women between 40 to 49 years of age should consult their physicians to know how often to get a mammogram. However, it should be known that as mammograms have benefits they are also with risks, hence the reason why physicians consultation is advised.
Breast cancer can be treated using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and radiation therapy. These treatment options have brought succor and saved lives of many people but melancholically about 685,000 women still died globally from breast cancer in 2020 according to the World Health Organisation. But best successes in treatment have been achieved when breast cancer is identified early. So, in this instance, a stitch in time doesn’t save nine but saves lives.