What are Breast Disorders?
Breast disorders may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Most are noncancerous and not life threatening. Often, they do not require treatment. In contrast, breast cancer can mean loss of a breast or of life. Thus, for many women, breast cancer is their worst fear. However, potential problems can often be detected early when women regularly examine their breasts themselves, are examined regularly by their doctor, and have mammograms as recommended. Early detection of breast cancer can be essential to successful treatment.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer around the world. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 50, but younger women can also get breast cancer.
About one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. There’s a good chance of recovery if it’s detected in its early stages.
For this reason, it’s vital that women check their breasts regularly for any changes and always get any changes examined by their GP.
Breast cancer can have a number of symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.
Most breast lumps aren’t cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by your doctor.
You should also see your GP if you notice any of the following:
Breast pain isn’t usually a symptom of breast cancer.
The exact causes of breast cancer aren’t fully understood. However, there are certain factors known to increase the risk of breast cancer.
There are several different types of breast cancer, which can develop in different parts of the breast.
Breast cancer is often divided into:
If cancer is detected at an early stage, it can be treated before it spreads to nearby parts of the body.
Breast cancer is treated using a combination of:
Surgery is usually the first type of treatment you’ll have, followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy or, in some cases, hormone or biological treatments.
The type of surgery and the treatment you have afterwards will depend on the type of breast cancer you have. Your doctor will discuss the best treatment plan with you.
In a small proportion of women, breast cancer is discovered after it’s spread to other parts of the body (metastatic breast cancer).
Secondary cancer, also called advanced or metastatic cancer, isn’t curable, so the aim of treatment is to achieve remission (symptom relief).
As the causes of breast cancer aren’t fully understood, at the moment it’s not possible to know if it can be prevented.
If you’re at increased risk of developing the condition, some treatments are available to reduce the risk.
Studies have looked at the link between breast cancer and diet. Although there are no definite conclusions, there are benefits for women who:
It’s been suggested that regular exercise can reduce your risk of breast cancer by as much as a third. Regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle can also improve the outlook for people affected by breast cancer.
If you’ve been through the menopause, it’s particularly important that you’re not overweight or obese.
This is because being overweight or obese causes more oestrogen to be produced, which can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Exercise boosts the immune system and helps you to keep your weight in check. With as little as three hours of exercise per week, or about 30 minutes a day, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. This doesn’t require going to a gym either. Power walking is more than sufficient!
A nutritious, low-fat diet (30 grams or less) with plenty of fruits and green and orange vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth
Smoking is a confirmed risk factor for many types of cancer. Recent research in the last year (2012) has confirmed that smoking is a contributing risk factor for developing breast cancer. Additionally, second hand smoke is also a risk factor for cancer. So if you are a smoker, help yourself in a significant way and join a smoking cessation program to help you stop. The day you stop smoking the healing can begin and each week in which you are smoke-free, you give yourself increasing advantages for a healthier life. Smoking also directly contributes to heart and other lung diseases, too.
Moderation is key. One drink per day has been shown to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. Having more than one drink per day has shown to be a more significant risk factor, and the alcohol content doesn’t matter: wine, beer or a mixed drink. Alcohol also increases estrogen in your bloodstream.
Although we know that more than one drink per day increases risks, to date there are no studies that demonstrate directly that the more a person drinks, the greater their risk for cancer. And in some cases, drinking one glass of wine a day can offer heart-health benefit. If you drink alcohol, this is an important topic to discuss with your doctor so that you will know what limits are best for you to observe.
There is an increased risk of breast cancer for women who have been using birth control pills for more than five years. However due to the low amount of hormones in birth control pills today, the risk is relatively small. But if a young woman has a significant family history of breast cancer, her gynecologist may recommend taking a break for a year from the pill at the 5-year time frame then resuming again for another 5 years. Although evidence-based research data does not offer strong support for this standard of care, it has nevertheless become an increasingly common practice.
Yes, there is. HRT was added to the carcinogenic list by the American Cancer Society in the early 2000s. It is recommended that women with known risks not be placed on HRT to control of menopausal symptoms. They should instead seek other safer alternatives.
Give yourself a breast self-exam once a month. Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, feeling a palpable lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, inversion of the nipple, redness or scaliness of the breast skin, redness or scaliness of the nipple/areola area, or discharge of secretions from the nipple.
If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. Though 8 out of 10 lumps are benign, all require evaluation to confirm that they are not cancerous.
Women should perform their breast self exam 7-10 days after their menstrual period starts which is also when their breasts are the least tender and lumpy. If they are no longer menstruating, then she should select the same day of the month (first of the month for example) and mark it on the calendar to remind herself when to perform this self exam. What to look for is a change from last month’s exam to this month’s exam. It is not unusual to have lumpy or bumpy breasts.
All women should know the geography of their own breasts. If having trouble remembering, draw a diagram of where the lumps, bumps, grooves, and other findings are felt so that this can be used as a reminder from month to month. There is no added value in doing breast self exams more often than monthly. Also the findings may be different as well, in relationship to where a woman is in her menstrual cycle.
Although women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only 5-10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease.
Mammography does compress the breasts and can sometimes cause slight discomfort for a very brief period of time. Patients who are sensitive should schedule their mammograms a week after their menstrual cycle so that the breasts are less tender. Your doctor may say it is fine to take acetaminophen an hour before the x-ray is performed to prevent discomfort too.
Women who began their menstrual cycles before age 12, have no biological children, or had their first child at 30 or older, or began menopause after 55 are at a higher risk. This means that research has proven that the number of menstrual cycles a woman has over time influences risk.
You should have a physical every year which should include a clinical breast exam and pelvic exam. If any unusual symptoms or changes in your breasts occur before your scheduled visit, do not hesitate to see the doctor immediately.
In 2012, some research studies have shown that factors such as traumatic events and losses can alter immune system functions, and when immune functions are altered cancer cells may have an opportunity to get themselves established within one’s body. What has been shown is that it is not the fact that a major life crisis has occurred but instead how the individual reacted to this event and coped (or didn’t cope). Therefore, identifying ways to keep your stress level in check is wise.
One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her life. This statistic affects all women equally. You may have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer, but so does your doctor…and your hairdresser…and the big-name actress in your favorite movie. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, the disease treats everyone the same.
NBCF has an online support group available 24/7 at Beyond The Shock. You can ask questions and get answers from your fellow survivors, learn more about breast cancer, and hear the inspiring stories of real people. If you’re looking for an in-person support group, we have created a list of third-party organizations who provide this resource.