October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A time to highlight and uplift those who are fighting a daily battle against the disease. Major breast charities increase promotions to raise awareness of the disease and raise funds for research, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure. Notable charities can be found below. Breast Cancer is common among American women. Over 250,000 women get breast cancer and 42,000 women die annually in the United States from breast cancer in contrast to about 520 men dying from breast cancer. Many understand that cancer is often fatal and a cause for concern, without knowing how cancer functions. Here we will break down what cancer is and how it pertains to breast cancer.
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What is Cancer?
Cancer is the result of uncontrolled cell growth. Cells are the building blocks of life, defined as the “basic structural, functional, and biological unit of all organisms.” Two basic types of cells are eukaryotes, which contain a nucleus, and prokaryotes, which do not contain a nucleus. Eukaryotic organisms, like ourselves, have cells wrapped in a membrane, encasing DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and structures called organelles. DNA is a molecule containing the genetic instructions of an organism that dictates how the organism develops, functions, grows and reproduces. Organelles are structures within that perform specific functions. Prokaryotic cells refer primarily to bacteria and are not necessarily relevant to this discussion.
Cell growth is almost a misleading term. Our individual cells do not get bigger. What the cells are doing is dividing, creating a new, identical copy to replace itself upon death. There are two types of cell division: mitosis and meiosis. The process of mitosis creates an exact copy of the initial cell. Meiosis occurs with germ (sex) cells and is the process of preparing a cell for sexual reproduction by reducing the genetic information.
Normally, cells divide orderly, replacing old cells as they die. Cell death occurs when a cell is not able to continue normal functions due to age or injury. A cell’s lifespan can vary depending on the cell type. Cell lifespans naturally range from about thirteen days to 18 months, depending on the cell type. Typically, the body replaces the old cells as they become damaged or die, but in the case of cancer, cell growth continues without ceasing. Cancer cells begin to crowd/damage the normal cells.
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is cancer that develops in breast tissue. Breast cancer cells typically form a tumor that can be felt as a lump during a breast exam, either by yourself or a doctor, or it can be seen on an x-ray.
Please note that not all lumps are cancerous and aren’t always life-threatening. However, if you notice a lump, it is important to notify your health professional for further examination.
What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer?
Symptoms can include:
- A change in the size of the shape of the breast.
- Pain in the breast.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk.
- A lump in the breast or underarm.
What Are The Risk Factors Of Breast Cancer?
Risk factors include:
- Gender. Women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer than men.
- Age. Women 50 and older are found to be at higher risk.
- Changes in your BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. BRCA1 gene mutations are associated with a higher risk of triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive and difficult to treat cancer. BRCA2 mutations increase the risk of breast, ovarian, pancreatic, gallbladder, bile duct, and melanoma cancers.
Is There Anything That Can Be Done To Reduce The Risk Of Breast Cancer?
Yes! Risk reduction behaviors include:
- Regular mammograms aid in detecting breast cancer early. Early detection makes breast cancer easier to treat before it becomes a threat to your life.
- Healthy eating and regular exercise.
- Do not drink alcohol, or limit the amount ingested.
- Ask your doctor about your risks if you are taking hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills.
- Breastfeeding your children.
What Are The Treatment Options For Breast Cancer?
There are several options for treatment, but common options include:
- Breast-conserving surgery – Surgery where only the part of the breast that has the cancer is removed.
- Mastectomy – Surgery where the entire breast is removed, as well as all of the breast tissue and potentially other nearby tissues. This surgery can be performed on one breast or both breasts.
- Chemotherapy (Chemo) – Anti-cancer drugs that can be given through the vein or by mouth (it is also sometimes given into the spinal fluid). The drugs then travel through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells in the body.
- Radiation – Treatment with high-energy rays that are intended to destroy cancer cells. Some cases will use radiation in addition to other treatment options.
What Else Should I Know About Breast Cancer Or Cancer In General?
A few more things to keep in mind about cancer are:
- The spreading of cancer cells is called metastasis and the rate of cancer growth varies.
- Tumors are lumps of cells formed by cancer.
- Lumps can arise that are not cancerous.
- Non-cancerous lumps are known as benign.
- Cancerous lumps are known as malignant.
Do Any Breast Cancer Organizations Exist?
Yes! Several organizations exist, including:
- Breast Cancer Research Foundation
- National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund
- Breast Cancer Prevention Partners
- National Breast Cancer Foundation
- Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation
- Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation
Bell & Associates is here to support you and your family through your cancer diagnosis. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.
Cancer is a dangerous and complex disease that is continuing to be researched today. With so many being affected by cancer, it is important to have a deeper understanding of what is going on with our bodies. We encourage you to help raise awareness for breast cancer by sharing this post and making a contribution to a notable breast cancer charity.