What Causes Breast Cancer in Women and How to Prevent It

Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in females worldwide. It accounts for almost 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women. 18.2% of all cancer deaths worldwide, including both males and females, are from breast cancer.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a kind of cancer that develops from breast cells.

Breast cancer usually starts off in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply them with milk. A malignant tumour can spread to other parts of the body. A breast cancer that started off in the lobules is known aslobular carcinoma, while one that developed from the ducts is called ductal carcinoma. The vast majority of breast cancer cases occur in females. This article focuses on breast cancer in women. There are basically two types of Breast Cancer:

  1. Invasive Breast Cancer – In this case, the cancer cells break out from inside the lobules or ducts and invade nearby tissue. With this type of cancer, the abnormal cells can reach the lymph nodes, and eventually make their way to other organs, such as the bones, liver or lungs.

 

  1. Non Invasive Breast Cancer – In this case the cancer cells are still inside the place of their origin and have not broken out. Sometimes, this type of breast cancer is called “pre-cancerous”; this means that although the abnormal cells have not spread outside their place of origin, they can eventually develop into invasive breast cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

The first symptoms of breast cancer are usually an area of thickened tissue in the woman’s breast, or a lump. The majority of lumps are not cancerous; however, women should get them checked by a health care professional.

Some of the common symptoms of Breast Cancer are listed below. It is advised to immediately see a doctor if you notice any of these symptoms in you:

  • A lump in a breast
  • A pain in the armpits or breast that does not seem to be related to the woman’s menstrual period
  • Pitting or redness of the skin of the breast; like the skin of an orange
  • A rash around (or on) one of the nipples
  • A swelling (lump) in one of the armpits
  • An area of thickened tissue in a breast
  • One of the nipples has a discharge; sometimes it may contain blood
  • The nipple changes in appearance; it may become sunken or inverted
  • The size or the shape of the breast changes
  • The nipple-skin or breast-skin may have started to peel, scale or flake.

 

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Experts are not definitively sure what causes breast cancer. It is hard to say why one person develops the disease while another does not. We know that some risk factors can impact on a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer. These are:

  1. Getting older

The older a woman gets, the higher is her risk of developing breast cancer; age is a risk factor. Over 80% of all female breast cancers occur among women aged 50+ years (after the menopause).

  1. Genetics

Women who have a close relative who has/had breast or ovarian cancer are more likely to develop breast cancer. If two close family members develop the disease, it does not necessarily mean they shared the genes that make them more vulnerable, because breast cancer is a relatively common cancer.

The majority of breast cancers are not hereditary.

Women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a considerably higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. These genes can be inherited. TP53, another gene, is also linked to greater breast cancer risk.

  1. A history of breast cancer

Women who have had breast cancer, even non-invasive cancer, are more likely to develop the disease again, compared to women who have no history of the disease.

  1. Having had certain types of breast lumps

Women who have had some types of benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps are more likely to develop cancer later on.

  1. Dense breast tissue

Women with denser breast tissue have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.

  1. Estrogen exposure

Women who started having periods earlier or entered menopause later than usual have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This is because their bodies have been exposed to estrogen for longer. Estrogen exposure begins when periods start, and drops dramatically during the menopause.

  1. Obesity

Post-menopausal obese and overweight women may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Experts say that there are higher levels of estrogen in obese menopausal women, which may be the cause of the higher risk.

  1. Height

Taller-than-average women have a slightly greater likelihood of developing breast cancer than shorter-than-average women. Experts are not sure why.

  1. Alcohol consumption

The more alcohol a woman regularly drinks, the higher her risk of developing breast cancer is. The Mayo Clinic says that if a woman wants to drink, she should not exceed one alcoholic beverage per day.

  1. Radiation exposure

Undergoing X-rays and CT scans may raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer slightly. Scientists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre found that women who had been treated with radiation to the chest for a childhood cancer have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

  1. HRT – Hormone Replacement Therapy

Both forms, combined and estrogen-only HRT therapies may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer slightly. Combined HRT causes a higher risk.

  1. Certain jobs

French researchers found that women who worked at night prior to a first pregnancy had a higher risk of eventually developing breast cancer.

Canadian researchers found that certain jobs, especially those that bring the human body into contact with possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors are linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Examples include bar/gambling, automotive plastics manufacturing, metal-working, food canning and agriculture. They reported their findings in the November 2012 issue of Environmental Health.

 

How to Prevent Breast Cancer?

Some lifestyle changes can help significantly reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Alertness, regular self-examination of breasts and precautionary behaviour can go a long way in preventing breast cancer in women.

  1. Alcohol Consumption– Women who drink in moderation, or do not drink alcohol at all, are less likely to develop breast cancer compared to those who drink large amounts regularly. Moderation means no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
  2. Physical Exercise– Exercising five days a week has been shown to reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill reported that physical activity can lower breast cancer risk, whether it be either mild or intense, or before/after menopause. However, considerable weight gain may negate these benefits.

 

  1. Diet– Some experts say that women who follow a healthy, well-balanced diet may reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. Astudy published in BMJ (June 2013 issue) found that women who regularly consumed fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids had a 14% lower risk of developing breast cancer, compared to other women. The authors, from Zhejiang University, China, explained that a “regular consumer” should be eating at least 1 or 2 portions of oily fish per week (tuna, salmon, sardines, etc).

 

  1. Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy– Limiting hormone therapy may help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. It is important for the patient to discuss the pros and cons thoroughly with her doctor.
  2. Bodyweight– Women who have a healthy bodyweight have a considerably lower chance of developing breast cancer compared to obese and overweight females.
  3. Women at High Risk of Breast Cancer– Doctors may recommend estrogen-blocking drugs, including tamoxifen and raloxifene. Tamoxifen may raise the risk of uterine cancer. Preventive surgery is a possible option for women at very high risk.
  4. Breast Cancer Screening– Patients should discuss with their doctor when to start breast cancer screening exams and tests.
  5. Breastfeeding– Women who breastfeed run a lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to other women. A team of researchers from the University of Granada in Spain reported in the Journal of Clinical Nursing that breastfeeding for at least six months reduces the risk of early breast cancer. This only applies to non-smoking women, the team added. They found that mothers who breastfed for six months or more, if they developed breast cancer, did so on average ten years later than other women.

 

How to do Self-Examination of Breasts to Detect Breast Cancer?

Here are 5 simple steps for women to do a self-examination of their breasts in front of a mirror, in order to try and detect early symptoms of breast cancer.

 

Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and color
  • Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling

breast_self_exam-Step 1

If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:

  • Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
  • A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
  • Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling

 

Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.

breast_self_exam-Step 2 & Step 3

Step 3: While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).

Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter.

breast_self_exam-Step 4

Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.

Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.

Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4.

breast_self_exam-Step 5

There are several other methods to do self-examination of breasts. We encourage you to stay aware and prevent breast cancer.

#BreastCancer #BreatCancerAwareness #PreventBreastCancer #BreastCancerInformation

This article has been adapted from medicalnewstoday.com and breastcancer.org

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