Breast Cancer – An Overview
Breast cancer has affected millions of people-women and men-their families, friends, jobs, and communities. It has struck approximately 1.3 million women worldwide. In the United States, it is estimated that about 185,000 new cases are reported yearly with 40,000 women dying of breast cancer (American Cancer Society). Breast cancer also hits men; about 1,900 men annually in the USA develop breast cancer and 450 men will die from it. Breast cancer occurs when a malignant (spreading and potentially fatal) tumor develops in the breast’s glandular tissues. There are different types of breast cancers: invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), inflammatory breast cancer, male breast cancer, recurrent breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer, and more.
No one knows exactly what causes breast cancer, but the risks are known. Women 50 years or older, women who once had cancer either of the breast or ovaries, and women whose family history includes breast cancer are all at risk for developing it. Research has discovered two genes which are responsible for breast cancer in some families: BRCA1 and BRCA2. Any woman (every 1 in 200) whose body contains this gene becomes especially vulnerable to breast cancer. Another factor that may predispose certain women to breast cancer is their body’s exposure to the hormone estrogen. Other risks may also include taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause, heavy radiation therapy (not breast radiation treatments), obesity, diets high in fat, and habitual alcohol drinking.
To be checked for breast cancer, a woman undergoes breast exams and a mammography (an x-ray exam of the breast). Further tests may be included, such as: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screening; MRI guided breast biopsies or surgical biopsies; bone scan; and ultrasound. If cancer is diagnosed, the physician will discuss a treatment plan with the patient, which may include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery, radiation therapy, or perhaps, a combination of several of these. In severe cases, treatment would include a mastectomy (the surgical removal of one breast or both). Specialists will participate as necessary in the comprehensive treatment of the patient.
Communities, multiple organizations, the media, and celebrities have all committed their resources, time, and talents to boost the public’s awareness concerning early breast cancer detection. All are dedicated to promoting breast cancer awareness and, thus far, have raised billions of dollars for research in preventing, treating, and, curing breast cancer. Funds are further used in helping under-insured men or women in getting the medical help they need as well as promoting and providing mammograms. Money has also been used in educating the public regarding breast cancer, breast self-exams, and urging people to practice preventive health care which includes: regular physical exams, breast self-exams, mammograms as advised, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and quitting smoking and/or avoiding second-hand smoke.
In October of 2009, the 25th anniversary of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was celebrated. The NBCAM has become the highlight of year-long special events, runs, and breast cancer walks to raise donations for the fight against breast cancer. One of these walks is sponsored by the American Cancer Society with its “Making Strides against Breast Cancer.” This event takes place in every state usually during NBCAM. The walk’s length is 3 to 5 miles and thousands of people participate across the nation. Many countries are also involved with their versions of NBCAM including breast cancer walks and other events to raise breast cancer awareness and to raise funds, as well. Furthermore, all participants of breast cancer events will usually wear a pink ribbon, the universal symbol for breast cancer awareness. It can be worn as a lapel pin or as adornment on t-shirts, key-rings and more, all used to bring in additional funds for the fight against breast cancer. This little pink ribbon serves as a gigantic reminder about breast cancer, its millions of victims, and the urgency to finally find a cure.