Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States and it is the second leading cause of cancer death among women. While it is exceedingly common among women, men can and do get breast cancer as well. Black women tend to be diagnosed at younger ages and have more aggressive forms of breast cancer and Black women have a 40% higher death rate when it comes to breast cancer. If you're reading this and you're thinking that you have no family history, so then maybe you are at low risk, keep reading because up to 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. Breast cancer is a far-reaching, complicated, and devastating disease, so today we're going to talk about it. I'm going to help you to understand this disease better, by discussing breast cancer risk factors, and giving you seven critical facts you should know.
We're going to discuss:
- The Definition of Breast Cancer
- Who's At Risk?
- What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer? What Should You Look Out For?
- Early Detection
- The Stages of Breast Cancer
- What Is Genetic Testing?
- Breast Cancer Treatment
- How to Prevent Breast Cancer
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is caused by a mutation or change in the DNA of breast cells. It's a mutation and this mutation allows breast cancer cells to grow and to grow and to divide and overtake normal tissue unchecked. And as these breast cancer cells divide, they crowd out normal cells, and they can extend into other tissue and really upset the system.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Who is at risk for breast cancer? Well, first of all, we know that 85% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. But there are specific risk factors, and the most common risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Being a woman
As a woman, your risk of developing breast cancer in your lifetime is about 1 in 8. Although men can get breast cancer as well. In fact, one in 100 cases of breast cancer is in men.
- Older age
The older you get, the more likely you are to develop breast cancer. About two out of three invasive breast cancers are found in women who are 55 or older.
- Dense breasts
Dense breasts have more connective and glandular tissue than fatty tissue. And having dense breasts, unfortunately, can make it harder to detect breast cancer on a mammogram. It also can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. So, if you have dense breasts, please be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
- Family history of breast cancer
A family history of certain types of cancer such as breast, ovarian, prostate cancer, and melanoma, can increase your risk as well as radiation exposure.
- A personal history of breast cancer or certain breast conditions
If you have had breast cancer in one breast, you're more likely to develop cancer in the other breast. Additionally, ductal carcinoma in situ, which is non-invasive cancer found in the milk ducts of the breast, can also increase your risk.
- Taking postmenopausal hormonal therapy
Postmenopausal hormonal therapy that contains both estrogen and progesterone can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Alcohol use
We know that alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. So, if you drink alcohol, please do so in moderation.
- Being a cigarette smoker
Smoking cigarettes unfortunately also is linked with an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Being obese or overweight after menopause can also increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
As I previously mentioned, Black women have a higher death rate from breast cancer. Additionally, Latinas and Native American women have a higher incidence of developing triple-negative breast cancer, which is a more aggressive form of the disease.
Stages Of Breast Cancer
The stages describe how far the breast cancer has spread within the breast tissue or even to other parts of the body and it's staged from zero to four.
When you hear the term stage zero, that means that there are abnormal breast cells but they have not spread. They are still located within the milk duct or within the luminal, and they have not invaded your tissues.
This is the earliest stage of invasive breast cancer and the breast cancer lesion is less than two centimeters, which means that it has just started to invade the breast tissue.
Stage two breast cancer means that the tumor is now between two and five centimeters. It may have also spread to the lymph nodes under your arm.
Stage three is considered locally advanced breast cancer. The tumor is larger than five centimeters and the cancer may have spread to lymph nodes and also spread to some local surrounding muscle tissue or to the skin as well.
Stage four breast cancer is the most advanced stage of breast cancer and it means that the cancer has spread to other parts of your body such as your liver, lungs, or brain.
What is Genetic Testing?
Genetic testing is a way to see if you have certain genetic markers or if you have inherited certain genes that will put you at a potentially higher risk for developing breast cancer. If you yourself have had breast cancer, then it is recommended that you get genetic testing. Also, if you have a family history, not only of breast cancer but also a family history of ovarian cancer, melanoma, and prostate cancer.
If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer younger than the age of 50, certainly genetic testing can be helpful. The two most common genetic markers associated with breast cancer are the BRCA1 and the BRCA2, but there are other genetic markers as well such as PALB3 which could put you at an increased risk for pancreatic cancer and a certain type of anemia. Consult with your physician. In many cases, genetic testing will be covered by insurance, but even if it's not, there are certain programs that can help to cover genetic testing, and oftentimes the cost is not as prohibitive as most people would think.
Treatment for Breast Cancer
The treatment for breast cancer is going to depend on what type of breast cancer you have, and what stages. It's also going to depend on what hormone receptors are there. Is it estrogen positive? Is it progesterone positive? All of these things will be told to you and explained to you by a physician you trust and so you want to make sure that you research your physician and get a board-certified physician.
Have A Good Team
You make sure that if necessary, you have the breast surgeon on the team, the breast radiologist, and the breast oncologist. You want to have a good team and you want to make sure that the team practices evidence-based medicine.
Lumpectomy or Mastectomy
Depending on what type of cancer, you may need to have surgery. You may be recommended to have a lumpectomy where just the lump that contains the breast cancer is removed or it may be recommended that the entire breast is removed or have a mastectomy or even both breasts, a bilateral mastectomy.
Radiation or Chemotherapy
Oftentimes it is recommended that patients have radiation or chemotherapy before even having the surgery or sometimes the surgery may occur before. Or depending on what stage, surgery may not be recommended at all. Again, consult with your physician and make sure you have an evidenced-based medical team you trust in treating your breast cancer.
There is a therapy you may have heard of called cryoablation and this is when a needle is injected into the cancer and the cancer is literally frozen. It's frozen and the cells are disrupted, the cells are then thought to be picked up by your immune system and sometimes it's being used in conjunction with immunotherapy.
Again, consult with your physician and make sure you have a physician who is practicing evidenced-based medicine to see if cryoablation therapy is appropriate for you or if a surgical lumpectomy is appropriate.
Whatever you do when it comes to the treatment of your breast cancer, make sure that you are not following people who are not board-certified. Also, make sure that you are not following people who are just social media doctors and don't have credentials. Your health, as you know, is nothing to play with. Talk to the doctors who have been trained to treat your breast cancer.
How to Prevent Breast Cancer
I often get asked, how can you prevent breast cancer in the first place? Now granted, there are people who can live healthy lifestyles, and do everything right and they may still get breast cancer just based on their genetics or the cards that they were dealt. But certainly having a healthy lifestyle can put you in the best position for preventing breast cancer.
So you want to make sure you exercise regularly and have a heart-healthy diet, that you eat foods that are mostly plant-based. You also want to make sure that you stop smoking if you're a cigarette smoker, or don't pick up a cigarette. If you drink no alcohol, that can decrease your risk for breast cancer. But certainly, if you drink alcohol in moderation, that's going to be better than having excessive use of alcohol. Be sure to watch my video on 10 healthy habits for a better you and a better life after you finish reading this article.
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