October is the Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is the time when thousands of organizations in the whole world focus on this one particular disease, and campaign to spread awareness of it and educate women on how to keep track of their breast health. It is also time to raise funds for research and for mammogram money for the less fortunate women. Individuals are encouraged to wear a pink ribbon for the whole month and to spread breast cancer awareness by sharing available information with others.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which a person develops a tumor in the breast tissue and that tumor happens to be malignant. Cancer begins at cell level. Normal cells divide at certain times to form new cells to replace old-damaged cells. Cancer is caused by changes to the genes that control the way the cells function, grow and divide. The change can be triggered by inflammation, emotional problems, environmental pollution, diet, lifestyle choices such as smoking, harmful chemicals in food, harmful ingredients in personal care products, radiation, the sun’s ultra violet rays, a weak immune system, and many other causes. (American Cancer Association). Instead of dying out, the damaged cells continue to divide and multiply, causing a tumor. The tumor can be benign (does not spread) or malignant (it spreads). Breast cancer is a malignant tumor of the breast.
The cancer spreads to surrounding tissue and bones if it is not checked early. Normally it can spread without causing any problems, which is why some women are diagnosed with cancer when it is already in its advanced stages. The stages of breast cancer are:
- Stage 0: The cancer has been discovered early. It is still confined where it started, which can be the milk glands or the milk ducts.
- Stage IA: The cancer, which is still as small as a shelled peanut, has broken free and spread to fatty breast tissue.
- Stage 1B: A few cancer cells have been found in a few lymph nodes.
- Stage IIA: The cancer has grown or it has spread to as many as three lymph nodes.
- Stage IIB: The cancer has grown to at least the size of a walnut (up to the size of a lime) and may be present in the lymph nodes.
- Stage III: The cancer is advanced but has not yet spread to bones or organs.
- Stage IIIA: Cancer has been found in up to 9 lymph nodes. Alternatively, it has enlarged the lymph nodes deep in the breast.
- Stage IIIB: The cancer has spread to the chest wall or the skin around the breast.
- Stage IIIC: The cancer is in at least 10 lymph nodes or has spread above or below the sternum.
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread into the bones, lungs, liver and brain. This stage is also called metastasis, meaning that the cancer has spread far from the breast area.
Why Awareness is Important
Breast cancer is the second most prevalent cancer among women in the whole world, and the incidence of breast cancer keeps increasing. (NBCF). In fact, it is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United states, killing over 40,000 women every year. Over 12% of the women population will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the US, and currently that figure stands at over a quarter of a million women new cases every year. Breast cancer also affects about 1% of the male population. (NBCF).
When breast cancer is discovered early, it can be treated with surgery and chemotherapy (or radiation therapy). Cancer survival is at its highest when it is detected and treated early. That is why women are encouraged to check their breasts for lumps and other abnormalities regularly. Problems to look out for include:
- Any change in the shape and size of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
- Nipple discharge that is not milk; this can be blood.
- A new lump in the breast or in the armpit.
If women detect any of the above problems, they should seek medical attention fast. Men should also stay vigilant and notify their women if they discover anything unusual. Women over the age of 50 years are encouraged to have mammograms every two years to detect any lumps that may not be detectable by hands.
People tend to forget to check their breasts regularly which is why some women get a breast cancer diagnosis too late. Late diagnosis reduces chances of surviving the cancer. A whole month is dedicated to breast cancer awareness because it is affecting too many women throughout the world. It is hoped that if more women are made aware of the disease, they can keep track of their breast health and detect cancer early.
American Cancer Association. Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.
NBCF, National Breast Cancer Foundation. Breast Cancer Facts.