What is a Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death among women. Breast cancer is caused by a group of abnormal cells, or malignant tumor, that invade and grow in the cells of the breast.
What causes Breast Cancer
No one knows exactly what causes breast cancer, but it always starts with damaged breast cell DNA that invades healthy breast cells. There exist some rumors about the causes of breast cancer that are NOT true. These rumors include e.g. that breast cancer is caused by: too much coffee consumption; deodorants; mobile phones; and microwaves.
What are the Risk Factors?
Although no scientist or doctor know exactly why cancer develops, cancer is most likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some risk factors have been established, such as:
- Genetic factors:
o Gender: Women are over 100-times more likely to develop breast cancer than men;
o Age: 2/3 of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 55 years old;
o Ethnicity: Caucasian women appear to be more at risk of developing breast cancer than women of other ethnic backgrounds;
o Family history: If your mother or sister have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past than you are more likely to also develop breast cancer than women with no family history of breast cancer;
o Your own medical history: If you previously been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, then you are more likely to develop breast cancer in your other breast compared to a woman who has never had breast cancer;
o Reproductive history: If you’ve never given birth or if you had your first child late in life.
- Environmental and Lifestyle Risk Factors
o Sedimentary Lifestyle: Little physical activity may increase your risk of developing cancer;
o Unhealthy diet: If you live off a diet high in saturated fat (e.g. animal fat, butter, baked goods, cookies);
o Alcohol: Large and frequent alcohol c0nsumption is a risk factor; the more you consume, the more at risk you are;
o Combined Hormone Replacement Therapy: CHT is sometimes prescribed by doctors for women undergoing menopause to help against troublesome menopausal symptoms. There is evidence which suggest that the use of CHT increases the risk of breast cancer.
Symptoms and Signs
Warning signs of breast cancer can involve a lump in one the breast or a change in the skin or tissue of the breast. If you notice any changes in your breasts, you should contact your health care provider so she or he can investigate and make a diagnosis. The changes you should look out for include:
- Tender nipples;
- Lump in the breast or armpit area;
- Changes in skin texture e.g. ‘orange peel’ texture or enlargement of pores;
- Changes in size or shape of breast;
- Unusual or bloody discharge from nipple
If you have any of these symptoms, you can contact us and make an appointment with a doctor for a check-up.
Clinical breast exam
A health care provider may start with a clinical breast exam of your breast. This is a manual exam and your doctor will be able to recognize abnormalities in your breasts. A clinical exam will check for lumps and physical changes.
If your doctor wishes to investigate a breast lump or any other suspicious changes to your breast, they can request a diagnostic mammogram. A mammogram uses x-rays to give clear views of what is going on inside your breast and can zoom in on the problem area.
A doctor can also perform a breast ultrasound. The ultrasound will produce a sonogram – a detailed picture of the inside of the breast and can distinguish between different kind of lumps in your breast. E.g. whether a lump in your breast is a cyst (typically not cancerous) or a solid lump, which may be a cancerous tumor.
A biopsy may be requested which includes the removal of tissue or fluid from the suspected area of your breast. The tissue or fluid is then examined for cancerous cells. If the biopsy show that there is cancer present, more tests will probably be required to determine best treatment options.
The importance of Self-Exams and Routine Mammograms
Regular self-breast exams (SBE) can help you get familiar with how your breast feel and look. SBE can also, therefore, help to detect any changes in your breasts early on and lead to early detection of cancer and successful treatment. In fact, many diagnosed breast cancers are detected by the women themselves. Every woman should try to do a SBE once a month, several days after the end of her period to make sure the breasts are not swollen or tender.
Routine mammograms can help save lives and women should start having mammograms around age 40, or even before if they are considered to belong to a risk group.
At Khema International Polyclinic, we have the newest technology and expertise to help you as soon as you walk through the doors. If you wish to make an appointment, please contact us. We recommend annual mammogram screening as part of your routine check-up. At Khema, we also offer mammogram screening as part of our well-woman package. For more information about our package deals, please contact us directly for an appointmet.