Breast Cancer: One of the Primary Contributors to Women’s Mortality!

June 28, 2023 by 1 Comment

Breast cancer is defined by uncontrolled cell production within the breast. Breast cancer is often caused by epithelial cells that line the ducts (in about 85% of cases) or the lobules (in roughly 15% of cases) of the glandular tissue in the breast.

This type of cancer develops from epithelial cells that line the glandular tissue’s ducts (85%) or lobules (15%). Initially, the cancerous tumor growth remains contained within the duct or lobule. Known as in situ, and does not often cause symptoms or have a high risk of spreading.

Early diagnosis is critical for effective breast cancer treatment. Doctors often utilize surgical removal, radiation therapy, and medication such as hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted biological therapy in the treatment of the condition. These therapies attempt to destroy tiny cancer cells that have spread from the main tumor. Additionally, they aim to prevent the further development and spread of cancer.

Breast cancer has a significant worldwide impact. By 2020, experts estimated that breast cancer would affect around 2.3 million women and cause 685,000 deaths globally. By the end of 2020, healthcare professionals diagnosed 7.8 million women with breast cancer in the previous five years. This makes it the most common disease worldwide among women. When compared to other forms of cancer, breast cancer causes a significant number of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost. This impact is particularly notable among women. It ranks highest in terms of the impact on women’s health and well-being. Thus, it can affect women in any nation and at any age following puberty. Additionally, older age groups tend to have a higher prevalence of the condition.

Who Are at Risk?

Breast cancer does not spread through communication or result from infections like some other types of cancers. Unlike cervical cancer, which has a direct association with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, there are no known viral or bacterial infections directly linked to the development of breast cancer.

Around half of all breast cancers develop in women who have no recognized risk factors other than being female and over the age of 40. However, certain variables can raise the chance of getting breast cancer. Age, obesity, excessive alcohol use, a family history of breast cancer, past radiation exposure, reproductive history (such as early menstruation and late age at first pregnancy), cigarette use, and postmenopausal hormone treatment are all risk factors.

40+ years females are mostly at the risk of breast cancer
40+ years females are most at risk of breast cancer

However, certain lifestyle decisions and actions can help minimize the chance of developing this type of cancer. These include breastfeeding for an extended period of time, regular physical exercise, weight control, avoiding excessive alcohol use, avoiding cigarette smoke exposure, reducing hormone usage, and limiting radiation exposure.

Thus, even if all modifiable risk variables were addressed, the overall risk reduction would be limited to 30%. However, being female is the most major risk factor for breast cancer, whereas, men account for a tiny fraction (about 0.5-1%) of cases.

Breast Cancer Signs & Symptoms

Breast cancer is most noticeable when there is an existence of a painless lump or thickening in the breast. Even if there is no coexisting discomfort, women who notice an unexpected lump in their breasts should visit healthcare as soon as possible. It is best to avoid delaying medical care for longer than 1-2 months. Seeking medical attention as soon as possible after spotting potential symptoms leads to more successful treatment outcomes.

Some of the general symptoms of breast cancer are as follows:

  • a breast lump or thickness
  • a change in the size, shape, or appearance of a breast
  • dimpling, redness, pitting, or other skin change
  • a change in the appearance of the nipple or a change in the skin around the nipple (areola)
  • abnormal nipple discharge

Breast lumps can arise from a variety of sources, the majority of which are non-cancerous. In reality, up to 90% of breast tumors are not cancerous. Non-cancerous breast abnormalities include conditions such as fibroadenomas, cysts, and infections.

Breast cancer can present in a variety of ways, emphasizing the significance of a thorough medical checkup. Women who have had persistent abnormalities for more than a month should have breast imaging. In certain situations, tissue sampling (biopsy) to establish if a lump is cancerous (malignant) or harmless. Similarly, breast cancers can spread to other regions of the body, resulting in additional symptoms.

Hence, cancer cells can spread to other organs such as the lungs, liver, brain, and bones over time. Once they reach these places, additional symptoms associated with cancer spread, such as bone pain or headaches, may appear.

Treatment

This type of cancer therapy has a high success rate, with survival rates of 90% or greater, especially when the illness is identified early. The typical treatment strategy combines surgery, radiation therapy, and systemic therapy. Likewise, healthcare professionals use surgery and radiation treatment to treat and prevent the spread of cancer in the breast, lymph nodes, and surrounding regions. Whereas systemic therapy uses anti-cancer drugs delivered orally or intravenously to treat and prevent cancer spread. Furthermore, endocrine treatment, chemotherapy, and targeted biological therapy (such as antibodies) are examples of these drugs.

Likewise, invasive cancers often require lymph node removal during surgery, but now a less invasive procedure called sentinel node biopsy is preferred. This procedure uses dye and/or a radioactive tracer to identify the first few lymph nodes where cancer could potentially spread from the breast. Medical professionals determine the appropriate treatments for cancer based on the biological subtype of the cancer.

Breast cancer treatment
Breast cancer treatment

Similarly, endocrine therapy, such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors, is likely to respond to estrogen receptor and/or progesterone receptor-positive cancers. Patients take these medications orally for a duration of 5-10 years. This significantly reduces the risk of recurrence in hormone-positive cancers.

Additionally, radiation therapy is very important in the treatment of breast cancer. Radiation might potentially save a woman’s life if she has early-stage cancer. Even after a mastectomy, radiation can help to minimize the chance of cancer recurrence. Radiation treatment may be used in later stages of this type of cancer to lower the chance of mortality from the illness.

Hence, patients must complete the entire course of therapy for breast cancer medicines to be effective. Incomplete therapy is less likely to have favorable results.

Also read: Fertility Rate Plunge: Visualizing the Global Demographic Shift!

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