In our lifetime, many of us might come across someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer - whether a mother, wife, daughter, relative, friend or colleague.
According to the World Health Organisation, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women worldwide. Unfortunately, in our day and age, it still claims the lives of thousands of women each year in developed and developing countries. According to incidence and mortality data from SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER), Program and the National Center for Health Statistics):
1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
It is the leading cause of death among women aged between 40-55
There is a new breast cancer diagnosis every two minutes
A life is lost to breast cancer every fourteen minutes
85% of all diagnoses have no family history of the disease
Over 40,000 lives will be lost this year, 400 out of them will be men
As you can see from the above statistic, the vast majority of breast cancer cases occur in women and although very rare, can occur in men as well. Currently most information is directed towards women due to the nature of the disease. However, most of the information that men need to know is the same as what is covered below. The symptoms associated, diagnostic methods and even treatment is relatively the same other than slight variations when it comes to the risks and causes associated.
The main area where men particularly require different information is the types of surgery available. In terms of surgery, the most common operation for men involve the removal of the entire breast (aka mastectomy) including the nipple. Depending on the situation and the stage of the cancer, radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy are also considered.
It is our responsibility to better educate ourselves and those dear to us about the disease, its risk factors and preventative measures that can be taken. As October is Breast Cancer awareness month, we would like to focus specifically on the steps that can be taken to detect the disease in the early stages.
Several risk factors have been linked to the prevalence of breast cancer. Yet, for most of the women diagnosed with the disease, it has not been possible to identify definite risk factors. Nonetheless, find below possible risk factors that might increase risk to the disease:
Family history of breast cancer (risk increases when close relatives have been diagnosed with breast, ovarian, colon, or uterine cancer)
Genetic mutations (particularly in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes)
Reproductive factors (such as early menses, late menopause, late age during first childbirth)
Age and gender (The older you get, the greater risk you are in developing breast cancer. In fact, most of the advanced cases are found in women over the age of 50.)
Tips to monitor breast health and reducing risk:
Perform monthly breast self-exams (BSE) in order to better detect changes in breast tissue. Although there has been no evidence of the effect of BSE, it is an effective tool when it comes to increasing awareness and empowering women to take personal responsibility of their health.
Alternatively, for better detection results, it is advised to have a clinical breast exam (CBE) performed by a health professional.
Schedule routine mammography screening - the only method that has been proven effective in detecting early signs of breast cancer.
It is recommended for women between the ages of 29 to 30 to conduct monthly breast self-exams and a clinical breast exam every three years, while women of 40 years and older should conduct monthly breast self-exams along with an annual clinical exam and mammograms.
Understand you family health history and familiarise yourself with the risks associated.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight by getting regular physical activity and good amount of sleep.
Limit exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants that may be in the environment or even in the products you use and food you consume.
Minimise alcohol intake and refrain from tobacco use.
Visit your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any of the associated symptoms:
Change in the size or shape of the breast
New lump/mass in the breast or underarm area
Nipple changes, including appearance, discharges, and/or pain
Swelling, irritation, redness of the skin, or flakiness of the nipple and/or breast- and other visible skin changes
Whether you know someone or have personally battled this disease, we leave you with the words of none other but Dr. Seuss: “I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!” Indeed, at the end of every struggle is a triumph and an optimistic spirit can battle anything with only two things, confidence and the right amount of hope.